Comparative Meshes

Stephen Cartwright (US)

Comparative Meshes

Intersecting data sculpture, 2014

Comparative Meshes is a sculpture that uses data to create intersecting landscapes. The piece consists of two three-dimensional graphs of data taken from every day of 2013. The blue surface illustrates the average wind speed at my location over the course of the year, while the green surface displays the average time I spent each day engaged in self-propelled locomotion (walking, running, cycling). The work was created to look for correlations between my activity and the natural world. The invisible force of the wind has a large impact on how we live our lives, especially if we allow ourselves to break away from the routines and conveniences of modern life and get out into the world.

About Stephen
My work exists at the confluence of science and art, where hard data intersects with the intangible complexities of human experience. Since 1999 I’ve recorded his exact latitude, longitude and elevation every hour of every day. I incorporate my location data and other personally recorded information into my digital and sculptural work. I’m an associate professor in sculpture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

How did you get started lifelogging/analysing data?
I have always been interested in maps and exploring, and for a while I would trace my daily routes on to a map. Eventually this turned into recording my cycling mileage as I rode around town. I didn't log the information in miles, I logged it in light-years as a way to try to make sense of the incredible scale of the universe.

Why do you find lifelogging so interesting?
I continue to be engaged in lifelogging because it gives proof of existence in a complex world. It provides concrete evidence and facts to counter perceptions that can be influenced by all sorts of natural and man-made forces.

How do people in your life react when they discover the extent of your lifelogging?
The word 'obsessed' comes up often when people first hear about my practice. But usually after hearing about it a bit more, people become engaged in the projects and see the value in a disciplined approach to personal data collection. Most people think they couldn't maintain or remember to record in any sort of lifelogging practice. That may be true but I am motivated by the incremental accumulation of the data that eventually yields something that was beyond my initial expectations.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
Solar noon because it is fixed astronomically to every location.

Do you remember the first electronic device you owned?
A Casio digital watch with musical alarms and hourly chime.

What do you want done with your data after you die?
I hope someone will at least make a note of my final resting place.

Is there anything about yourself that you would absolutely never like tracked?

What insights on your life has tracking your data revealed?
The main insights I have gained from my practice are about how the process separates perception from fact. It is difficult to have an accurate picture of your life without data. Because of this, I move through life with some sense of scepticism about what I see, and I look for evidence to support my initial observations and opinions.

What websites, magazines or other resources inspire, confound, amuse or irritate you?
One of my favorite ways to pass time on the internet is, a collection of bicycle touring journals covering weekend outings to epic multi-year, transcontinental journeys. I tend to shy away from art specific resources and focus on science, engineering and history. Even though I teach a class on digital fabrication and use it extensively in my own work, some of the recent coverage of 3D printing is tiresome. It is pitched as the ultimate form of making, but as of now it has very specific and limited utility.

What is your go-to piece of tech or software for lifelogging?
I use everything from pencil and paper to software in my lifelogging pursuits. The most important device I carry is a phone with a GPS app. The phone also has a step tracking app. From there I use Excel and RhinoCAD for data handling and data visualisation. I am looking forward to getting better at the visual output computer language Processing in the future.

We're creating a speculative timeline of the possible future of lifelogging. We're asking everyone to make one prediction for a future date. What's yours? Feel free to think big!
By 2020 real-time health monitors will be convenient, commonplace and connected. These will allow people to track their weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and so on and receive personalised treatment.

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