Plato said that the unobserved life is not worth living. Modern technology gives us an unprecedented range of ways to observe our lives, some of them familiar, many of them leading to uncomfortable and revealing truths. As a data scientist, I strongly believe in the power of data in understanding, analysis, problem-solving and decision-making, and thought that for my next project I would apply some of these principles to my own life.
The project has dual goals. The first is to generate a truly unique dataset which represents my actions over the course of a significant time period. This leads to interesting philosophical questions: for example can a person be uniquely identified by such a dataset? This dataset will have aesthetic value and in my opinion artistic value, as a statement about the modern age and technology’s hold on our lives. The second goal is to understand how the simple act of observation can lead to insights about oneself, and perhaps ultimately lead to an understanding of one’s shortcomings, and ways that one can be happier and more content. This will involve obtaining aggregated insights from my dataset, understanding them, and formulating from them actionable ways to improve my day-to-day life.
I’m sure that people have tried such projects before; there is a large and vibrant community of “quantified self” enthusiasts (see here, here, here) but I want to try and present it in an original way, and in a way that explains the value of using data to inform decision-making.
For many of the metrics I want to measure, I will be using existing platforms to make the project a little easier. For example I can track all the music I listen to with iTunes, all my web browsing in Chrome, my time at work with the workplace HR system, etc. For other metrics (like time spent with important people, mood, etc) I will put together a simple service that monitors my inbox and creates rows in a database whenever an email contains a specific keyword. Building this process (and also the analytics layer that will allow me to keep an eye on everything) will be the subject of the next series of posts (starting here).