Data Humanism Excercise

Data Postcard



You probably know about the project Dear-Data (if that is not the case, you should check it out.) Well, my friend Alessandro Riva knew I liked it quite a lot, but I was not aware of him knowing that. Until one day, when I received a surprise letter in my mailbox: it was not a letter to be exact, it was a data postcard that my friend drew to tell me about his adventure. Matter of fact, at the time he was spending the school semester in Jerusalem, Israel, and to tell me about it he did not send me a Snapchat, he did not send me an Instagram message, nor a Facebook status (screw all of that!) Instead, following the Dear-Data example, he selected one topic and collected personal data about it. His postcard detailed his spending during his first two months there. But besides learning how expensive it is to live in Jerusalem, receiving such a personal artifact was overwhelming: first, I would have never expected a data postcard from anyone and receiving one was as surprising as pleasing; but most of all, I could read it however I wanted, leading my way through the story of the two months that that piece of paper was holding. It felt like having my friend right there, telling me all about it.

Given that mail correspondence works if the two subjects answer one another, I surely wanted to send my friend a data postcard myself. This is how this little project came to be.

  • data-postcard-1
  • data-postcard-2

My trip to Spain seemed like a good choice as topic for the postcard. From Day Zero, I started collecting data about myself by hand on my journal. I would write down all my movements, whenever I would eat something, what I visited, my sleep and the money I'd spend. This practice had a few soft effects on my day-to-day, as I was a bit more conscious about my actions and at night I would exercise my memory when summoning the entire daily activity. This process helped me focus on my behavior, a sort of short study of the self.

  • data-postcard-sketch

After a few days I had enough data to start sketching. Every city I visited is a point on the map. Every activity I tracked is a circle around the city, ordered from center to outside, each categorized by color and shape. The drawing of my own data was not only meant to show my trip to my friend: it was also a process of self-discovery and self-awareness. Did I really walk that much? How many times did I eat at a restaurant? Does the number of activities, hence the size of the bubble around a city, reflect how long I stayed there? (Yes, it does!)

  • data-postcard-4

Once I mailed the postcard, it took it way longer than I expected to reach its destination. In a time when you instantly know that your text message was delivered and read at a specific moment, it is hard to confront the unknowing of the old-fashioned mail delivery. But I think it is just part of the game. Although the wondering stops when you eventually receive a new data postcard in your mailbox of course. Which I did, and now I need to figure out what data I should start collecting for the next postcard to be sent!

Inspired by Data Humanism.

Tech specs

Paper: 10 × 15 cm (4 × 6 in)

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