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Quantified Humanists

Designing Personal Data


Anna Gudnason

Quant Humanists

Spring 2019


Assignment #1

Personal Data Download

I started off the process of my data download with Instagram and Facebook, mostly because I knew it would have the most extensive data knowledge about me. Below is a summary of my findings.


I created Facebook when I was 15 years old and have had it ever since. The data file I downloaded from Facebook was 748 MB big, 735,925,888 bytes. That's 11 years worth of data that Facebook has, representing a certain online representation of me. Looking through the many eerily organized folders and subfolders of data collected about my many social interactions was really unsettling. It had saved every single photo I had ever uploaded in an album or posted in a message. It didn't just collect data on who I was friends with, but also removed and rejected friend requests. What really freaked me out the most was that it also collected every single message I had ever sent to anyone on Facebook. This included audio and photo files that were sent within the messages as well. This is unsettling because we are usually under the impression that when we send messages, it is private, but this organized record of every message with every person makes you realize this privacy is assumed.

I do not use Facebook anymore and only keep it because my friends still use it for group messaging and creating events. I have always found the problem of sacrificing social ability for privacy to be difficult and think that is what makes Facebook so powerful, is the network effect it has. Most people I know hate Facebook's misuse of privacy and wish to delete it, but keep it for the same reasons I do.

Facebook has assumed my ad interests with these categories and many more.


My Instagram data download was 273.9 MB (272,670,269 bytes). The information was pretty much the same as Facebook's with a little less information. What surprised and scared me the most about looking through the collected data was that it had saved every single photo I ever posted, including the ones I had deleted. It raises the question to me if users should have the right to delete their data.

My instagram data is the opposite of my Facebook in the sense that as I started using Facebook less, I started using Instagram more. I am sure Facebook is connecting the data amongst their users cross applications to construct an overall user profile (especially now with the integration of Whatsapp).

Self Tracking Projects Review

I reviewed many existing quantified self projects and highlight and analyze a few below:

Project 1: Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec


Dear Data was a year-long analog data drawing project between two information designers. They collected and hand drew their personal data sending it to each other in the form of postcards every week for a year. Detailed keys would be provided so that the recipient could decipher the picture.

Broader Significance:

Approaching data in a slower, more analogue way allows us to take a step back to examine ourselves and what we are collecting. Rather than the goal of efficiency, data is used here to connect with oneself on a deeper more fundamental level. So much of our data is collected without our knowledge (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that we almost become unaware of our constant outputs and inputs. By taking control of collecting our own data in our own way, we are able to be more aware of ourselves in response to everyday life.

This also tackles data in a different perspective; quality of data over amount, subjective data over impartial, inspiring data over descriptive, as well as spending time with our actual data and having that data reflect people rather than just numbers. In turn, this project hopes to make us more human rather than more efficient.

Why It Interested Me:

There were a few reasons this project attracted my attention. First, was just the pure artistic beauty and design of the entire collection of data. Second, this represented more of a visual journal rather than a hard dataset, which so many of us are used to seeing when it comes to data collection and visualization. This project really inspires people to look beyond the numbers and find creative ways to represent things that may be subjective and numbers fail to represent. I also saw Giorgia Lupi give a talk at Columbia school of Journalism and she had a lot of inspiring words to say about data driven design.

Project 2: Nomie, Track Anything App


Nomie (pronounced "Know Me") allows you to track up to 12 items for free, opting to pay for more items if you wish. The point of the app is for users to gain awareness of what they do each day and how it affects their lives. You choose what you wish to track, then click on that button each time you perform one of your tracked actions.

Broader Significance:

This product emphasizes more on self discovery rather than self tracking with the ability to customize and control what you track. Everyone has different needs and goals and sometimes you may not even have a specific goal in mind, but want to observe data about yourself. This app allows you to discover things that you may have not previously known about yourself.

Why It Interested Me:

This app is more along the lines of something I would use to track myself. I definitely have specific interests in what suits me to track about myself that may not be available using pre-custom trackers with other apps. The ability to customize really appeals to me.

Project 3: Tracking The Last 744 Hours Of My Life


Jeffrey Lam set out to track what he did everyday for 744 hours of his life in order to answer the question, where is all his time spent? The project aimed seemed to be at improving time efficiency by identifying misused time. He used four apps (Google Calendar, Rescue Time, Moment and Mi Band Fitness Tracker) to log his time spent.

Broader Significance:

Sometimes, we may use multiple trackers and applications to track certain things in our lives utilizing the full extent of resources available to us. Especially in today's age and in New York City, people always feel as if there is not enough time. Sadly, most of that time "lost" is from computer usage (such as social networks). Jeffry identifying how he was misusing his time, was able to change his actions and improve how he spent his time by being more self aware. I think this can be one of the many benefits of self tracking.

Why It Interested Me:

I have always been interested in trying to lower my screen usage as I think it eats up a lot of my time in useless ways. I have opted for Instagram to give me notifications when I have exceeded my allocated time usage and have started to try to figure out how much time I also spend in commute. The idea of time usage is definitely something I find interesting and something that most people are aware of, even if they do it everyday.


My current relationship with self tracking is one of both love and hate. I think there are definitely many benefits to self tracking, but those benefits can sometimes be abused. Especially when it comes to the health sector, health data is often not kept private, but monetized, which can lead to unequal treatment (for example, when it comes to health insurance companies). I love personal data collection when it comes to understanding ourselves better in the efforts of also trying to improve ourselves. When I used to run everyday, I used the Nike run app to track my distance and time, always keeping track of my progress each week. This allowed me to become a better runner because I was more informed with information about myself. I think this can be true of a lot of things.

Data that interests me the most however, is the data that cannot necessarily be collected by big data companies, but depend on yourself to keep track of. This is more of the subjective data of our emotions, mood and overall mental health. I think we are more than the data of our screen time, our messages and our pictures. Human beings are so much more complicated than a number representation and figuring out how to convey that through (maybe sometimes imperfect) data is something that really interests me.

Throughout the course of this class, I hope to track data about my emotional and mental well being. The challenge in that will definitely be figuring out the most accurate way to represent subjective data. While the Dear Data project is inspiring to me, I want to find a middle ground between data that is beautiful and subjective and represent that in a more consistent and structured way (less design heavy and more concrete data but about subjective emotions).

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