A Birthday Dreamscape | Act II: Quantified-self, Lifelogs and Someone Else’ Mindscape

July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

Act I –  Voyage to the edge of the universe

Act III – The hybrid Here and Now

Epilogue – The comfort of my cake

Act II – Quantified-self, lifelogs and someone else’ mindscape

I don’t quite know how “generations” worked, be it human and digital cross-bred or purely digital procreation.  But at this point, my mind stops to care.

However fast technology develops, superhuman upgrade will unlikely be readily available at the end of MY lifetime.  More than “Our” place in the Universe, what I really want to know is “My” place in the Universe.

Perhaps starting with a smaller, simpler question: “why am I lying in bed thinking about these things, when I’m supposed to be sleeping?”

Yes, know thyself first!

Last autumn I went back to corporate employment to take a sabbatical from entrepreneurial independence.  Besides health insurance, a benefit of this sensible move has been perks such as a free Fitbit.  A wearable laggard, I finally wrapped one around my wrist, courtesy of my employer.  The nights before my birthday, my teal-colored Fitbit records my sleep pattern like this:

20150410 sleep log per Fitbit web

20150410 sleep log per Fitbit phone_IMG_2894

I stare at the bars for a few hours, looking for more clues about my sub-consciousness or my neurological conditions than the red and green “awake” and “restless” markers can tell me.  I don’t find any.

Perhaps my sample size is too small.  Perhaps my digital history is too shallow.

Perhaps I need to be like data artist Laurie Frick.  She has so much data about her sleep, from 900 nights!  She captured and downloaded nightly EEG sleep data, using a much more sophisticated sleep tracker – Zeo.  A finely calibrated dry EEG sensor gives her minute-by-minute record of deep, REM, light and awake sleep states, which she makes into drawings.


“Pokey Red”, 12” x 12”.  Cut paper, watercolor and ink. Based on a month of sleep data, with the light sleep (aka trash sleep) periods folded up out of the way, and only deep, REM and awake periods remain. 2011.  Image courtesy of Laurie Frick

That Laurie Frick, she tracks everything: mood, travel patterns, food intake, bio-markers, locations, movement, heart-rate, spending, clicks, likes, temperature, and weight, etc.  She captures data using apps such as mytracks and Manictime, looks for patterns, rhythms and relationships in that data, then turns them into art work in a variety of media – paper, wood blocks, leather, aluminum, tacks, watercolor and ink, displayed at startup offices, hospitals, her own home, and of course, galleries.


“Walking, Eating, Sleeping….”, at Marfa Contemparary, 2013.  Image courtesy of Laurie Frick


“Floating Data, Walking Pattern 3251”.  Lasercut anodized aluminum in 60 panels, 2014.  Hangs inside a 2 story connecting stairwell at Neustar SF.  Image courtesy of Laurie Frick

She believes “seeing the abstract patterns and rhythms of one’s self-tracking data is a shortcut to mindfulness, a quick and dirty way to boost immune system”.  If she is right that “attention span and sleep patterns are a way to reverse engineer brain pattern”, I could very well use that insight!

The problem is, having been in limbo between asleep and awake several nights in a row, my mind is too fatigued to handle abstract or engineer anything.

It wanders off to Ireland, where the Science Gallery of Dublin is having a whole exhibition on lifelogging, with works from sixteen researcher-artists exploring “novel methods for capturing data, for visualising, and for analysing the insights that new data affords us about ourselves and society”.  In addition to interactive and immersive installations, rotating labs take place at the gallery every week, when different researchers come to the gallery to demo their analyses, from early detection of diseases, to measurement of emotional responses, to revelations of tacit opinions given away by brain wave activities.

My mind is energized: someone there must be able to help me self-analyze, with answers directly presented or requiring not much effort deciphering!


Alan Kwan’s video camera mounted on his glasses

Sure enough!  I come across Bad Trip”, a virtual reality installation that allows me to navigate the creator’s mind in action using a game controller.   Alan Kwan, its creator, works at the intersection of cinema and new media, currently pursuing a Master of Science in Art, Culture & Technology at MIT.  Blending film, video game, lifelogging devices and brainwave sensors,  he created a virtual mindscape where people can navigate and experience his memories and dreams.


Still from “Bad Trip”, by Alan Kwan

Intrigued, my mind enters into the well-visualized virtual reality of his – a stark, creepy world with hilly terrain and strange houses that store his secrets.  Along the way I meet a man with tree branches as the head, climb a stairway that seems to be going up forever, and each time I approach a pile of transparent cubes with spaghetti-looking lumps inside, his black-and-white mindscape erupts into a colored explosion of people, streets, restaurants and other scenes of his life recorded earlier during the day (with a custom-made tiny video camera mounted on his glasses).

Still from “Bad Trip”, by Alan Kwan

Still from “Bad Trip”, by Alan Kwan

Several minutes into this virtual trekking, my mind is out of breath and decides to give up, having found no clues reminiscent of my own dreams.

A “bad trip” indeed?  Perhaps the head of a 25-year old male is not the place to look for insights for my middle-aged angst!

Perhaps there’s no getting around it: I would need to have my own data exhausts to analyze.

It occurs to me I have been tracking my life, too, for a long time.  I have been keeping  a journal since July 1984.  It has recorded my growth, my setbacks, my excitements, my heartbreaks, my accomplishments, and my disappointments.  Should I start logging my life automatically and digitally instead, with apps and sensors?  Will data give me more insight about my patterns and my sub-consciousness, revealing why I make the mistakes I do and how to correct them for the future?

Act I –  Voyage to the edge of the universe

Act III – The hybrid Here and Now

Epilogue – The comfort of my cake

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