The personal analytics of Stephen Wolfram

March 8, 2012  |  Self-surveillance

hourly rhythms

Stephen Wolfram examines his archive of personal data from emails to keystrokes to phone calls, going all the way back to 1990. Above shows the hourly distribution of his activities.

The overall pattern is fairly clear. It’s meetings and collaborative work during the day, a dinner-time break, more meetings and collaborative work, and then in the later evening more work on my own. I have to say that looking at all this data I am struck by how shockingly regular many aspects of it are. But in general I am happy to see it. For my consistent experience has been that the more routine I can make the basic practical aspects of my life, the more I am able to be energetic—and spontaneous—about intellectual and other things.

Woflram concludes:

As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives. At first it all may seem quite nerdy (and certainly as I glance back at this blog post there’s a risk of that). But it won’t be long before it’s clear how incredibly useful it all is—and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before. And wishing they had started sooner, and hadn’t "lost" their earlier years.

Then again, even if you don't actively collect data about yourself, there's still plenty to go off of: email, mobile phone logs, text messages, calendars, etc. So I think it's more about doing things with our existing (and growing) time capsules than it is about making sure we don't lose things. It'll be interesting to see what roles companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook in providing views into our past.

[Stephen Woflram]

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