17 Years of Location Tracking
media | mood & emotion
Stephen Cartwright has been tracking his latitude, longitude and elevation since 1999. He has almost 150,000 hourly location recordings. He finds that he gets more reliable data from manually logging his location instead of relying on the GPS in his smartphone. In this talk, Steven shows how seventeen years of location tracking has given him a wealth of data to explore in the form of three-dimensional data visualization sculptures, which have been shown at some QS conferences.
gps | map
My name’s Stephen Cartwright. I’m an artist and a self-tracker. I’m here today to talk to you about my location tracking project. I did this for a year. I recorded my latitude, longitude and elevation every hour. I did this or a year in 1996 and started up again in 1999 and I’ve been going ever since.
I first gotten my first GPS when they came out and I set my watch to beep on the hour, and when it beeped I’d take my GPS out and mark a way point. Later on I’d right down my way point down onto my log sheet. Sometime after that I transcribed the log sheet into a spreadsheet.
I’ve been using pretty much the same system ever since the beginning and Sunday will actually mark the 17 year anniversary of the project, and that’s almost 150,000 hourly location recordings.
So I didn’t start this project for self-improvement or to solve a problem. I started it because I was interested in these invisible systems that we’re all immersed in and to try and get some comprehension of my importance and the impact of my life, as I’m only going to be here for such a short time.
So I can visualize my data in these maps. So this is my map of North America. It’s made by simply drawing a line from one hour to the next, so connecting space and time. Well here we are, we’re zooming down into the East coast of the United States. You can see my slow migration across the United States, starting in Philadelphia, Richmond, and now I live in central Illinois right there. so that’s Champagne Havana at the center. You can see lots of trips back and forth to Chicago, trips across Indiana to different points further East and the freeways heading out West also.
When we get down to this resolution, this is just Champagne Havana where I live right now. You can really start to see these few different points that make up you know the bulk of my life.
And so the project is really a good personal diary. It doesn’t record my thoughts or my emotions, but it does create a very accurate picture of my life, one probably more accurate that I could I’ve made through any other kind of recollection or anything.
In a couple of seconds there will be a couple of stats up on the screen there. So I get about 1241 unique GPS locations a year, and this also shows my sort of average distance for home. I think really good years are when thee lines spike up on the axis there, so far away from home and doing lots of different things and seeing lots of different things.
So I can also visualize my data in this sort of 3-Dimentional heat map. Once again you can see those three spikes that they’re home, school, and studio are those three tall spikes. And when I break it down year by year, you can also see those three tall spikes. But you can also start to see if you know what you’re looking for you can see you know, new friends, new routines, and new stores that open and new sort of influences coming into my life.
So I like to visualize my data and I recently made this sculptural visualization machine, my x-y plotter, o try to capture some of that invisible track that I leave as I go through life. It takes a longer exposure photograph of a moving LED, and I set the LED to sort of move in the sequence of events of my latitude and longitude.
This would be a good point to talk about active tracking versus passive tracking. I’m a big proponent of the active tracking, and you know I think going between recording and visualizing is a nice sort of feedback loop, so you can see what you’re recording, what’s happening and make sure you’re not getting any mistakes.
So this is an active tracker and a passive tracker. The passive tracker is the one with the little yellow square on it. These are two maps and one has maybe about a thousand data points. The other one has about 150 bad data points on it that I could find, in the middle of this soya bean field where I usually hang out or do any farming. So I think it’s really important to have that sort of feedback where you can see the recordings and then react.
This is a three dimensional map of North America using latitude, longitude and elevation. What’s important about this piece is I think it shows you know where I’ve been, but more importantly it’s because it’s carved out of this solid block of acrylic. It shows you all the places where I haven’t been and I think those potential places are the most interesting places to me, like where do I need to go, what do I need to see.
So data, visualization, and sculpture or me often make data more comprehensible. But I think there’s something else to with art, you can make new landscapes out of the data. Ad so this is a piece I finished recently, where I made a new landscape and tried to investigate something as well. So I was looking at my minutes of outdoor activity, and that’s the green layer and the wind speed where I was over the course of the year in the blue layer. And I was looking to see how these things were correlated and what was related and what influenced my life. It turns out that mostly my life is influenced by the routines of working and the requirements of daily life.
So this is another way I can look at my recordings, so I can set latitude and longitude relative to time, so one click up the z-axis is one hour. And looking at it this way I can look back and I can see the sequence of events. I can see where I was and that can kind of remind me of what I was doing, who I was with and maybe of how I was feeling.
It also makes me when I look at it in this fashion it also makes me mindful of where I am right now, because I can also think about where I am right now and think about what am I doing now but there’s something else happening on other spaces, or what’s happening in my space that happened in other times. So really trying to put myself into a four dimensional world and sort of try to comprehend that.
And this is a further visualization of that and just thinking about how mapping like this helps me prove that I exist. You know, I can put myself in a specific place and a specific time, and I can look back and see that again. But it’s also very humbling experience and looking at this tiny line in the middle of this big empty nothingness and say what do you really know and experience if you’ve only seen that little tiny trajectory through life.
So thank you.