First Person

September 13, 2013 6:27 pm

First Person: Nicholas Felton

‘I keep an annual report on my life’
Nicholas Felton©Flora Hanitijo

I wrote the first annual report in 2006. It chronicled the everyday events in my life during the previous 12 months and was supposed to be just for my own personal use. Then I realised I had collected such a lot of data that it might be fun to publish parts of it on the internet. Things have snowballed since then and I have written a new report every January since.

I look at my life from different aspects and so that first report contained information on what might appear to be the very mundane. In 2005 I travelled to seven different countries on 18 flights and covered an average distance of 3,310 miles. At home in New York, I played 16,862 songs from iTunes, my favourite musical artist was Cat Power and I took 3,754 digital photographs.

There was never a plan to create a second report but I decided to take it a stage further for 2006, detailing my favourite restaurants, types of beer and the number of emails I sent from work, which totalled 5,638. I also sent 2,823 text messages and went to the cinema 21 times. My favourite movie that year was The New World, starring Colin Farrell.

A lot of the information about our lives is simple to collect. Your mobile phone and computer stores so much data that it’s fascinating to unravel how we spend our time. At the start, I was just curious to find out what I had been doing for the past 12 months. Then people started asking how they could collect their own life data too. It led me to set up a website called Daytum which helps them discover how.

I’m 36 and would like to believe that collecting data about myself has changed my lifestyle for the better but it doesn’t always work that way. I know that I don’t read enough books and catching so many flights can harm the environment. I still don’t eat the right foods or exercise enough.

Despite the reports, data isn’t really my calling. I trained as a graphic artist at Rhode Island School of Design and currently work on product design for Facebook. My girlfriend, though, thinks I am totally obsessed by data and sometimes she is right. We were at a restaurant recently and I couldn’t relax because I was looking for information to include in the next report. It might have been the type of vegetables I had on my plate or the clothes I was wearing but I had to write something down. Generally, she is supportive and gets what I am doing.

My problem is that I live the year in fear that there will be a gap in my data, so I find it very hard to switch off. Instead of trying to remember to write information down, I now have a smartphone app, which asks me what I am doing every 90 minutes. That allows me to concentrate on other things and not to worry that I will forget.

The data has changed in format over the years. In 2009, I asked my friends to report on their social experiences with me. It took me three weeks to sort through the replies. Patterns emerge too. I tend to see some friends on certain days of the week, which I hadn’t realised. Last year, I visited 40 restaurants in New York, the highest altitude I went to was 7,989ft and I spent 49 days in hotels, visiting five different countries along the way.

I always said that I wanted to collect 10 years of data on my life and then publish everything in one book. That means I have two more reports to write and then I can stop, if I want to. It will be difficult to give up because I genuinely enjoy looking for new information and making each report better than the last.

I don’t think I’m that geeky, but gathering information has become a bit obsessive. I have an old cat called King at home. Recently, I started collecting data on the number of teeth he’s lost, which I accept probably does sound a little weird to some people.

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