The new examined life: ‘meaning from the mundane’

Bloggers who, like me, like to dabble in analytics, charts and graphs may find this Wall Street Journal piece titled The New Examined Life intriguing — and a bit disturbing.

It’s a story (via Murleting’s delicious links) about how the broad array of online tools at our disposal can help us measure and analyze even the most mundane of activities. Such is the case with Nicholas Felton (pictured above), a New York-based graphic designer who will boil down all his activities from the year into an annual report similar to the one he did for 2007. Felton is the Journal‘s hook to the bigger picture of our growing interest (obsession?) with “personal informatics” — something the Journal calls drawing “meaning from the mundane.”

The culture of sharing information online has shifted in recent years, from a focus on blog ramblings to the ubiquitous micro-movements of posters’ daily lives. Microblogging sites like Twitter have become commonplace. … Facebook’s News Feed feature initially drew criticism from members because it offered a running log of users’ minute postings and updates, but has since became a core part of the Web site’s community. Some sites collect data automatically for their users. keeps a record of all of the songs users have listened to, and Netflix keeps track of members’ movie-watching habits.

“It’s a natural progression from people sharing things like movies, photos and videos,” says Dennis Crowley, founder of Dodgeball, an early social-networking service for mobile phones which was sold to Google in 2005. “What’s left to share? Basic data.”

And so we have the Internet to help us. With sites like Wordle, bloggers to create “word clouds” to quickly grasp what words or subjects they most frequently post about. (As my word cloud below suggests, I might want to quit yammering so much about Twitter.)

Wordle cloud -- via
Wordle cloud -- via

But that’s probably more than I need to be sharing. According to the Journal report, “Personal data collection can get in the way of living.”

And it seems like such a harmless pursuit. Mundane, even.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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