For the last nine years, Nicholas Felton—who you may know best for inspiring the Facebook timeline or creating the life-logging app Reporter—has been recording some aspect of almost every moment of his life. And each year, he turns this data into a elegant, printed book that visualizes the year called The Feltron Report. (See 2011 here and 2012 here.)
His 2013 report was released yesterday, and while his past efforts have tracked minutia like beers drank and places on the globe visited, this time, Felton was even more ambitious, tracking every bit of communication—be it a spoken or nonverbal acknowledgement, SMS, Facebook message, telephone call, email, or the paper stuff. That’s 94,842 interactions containing 7,673,242 words in all, requiring an painstaking amount of work just to archive.
Felton had to log his physical mail onto spreadsheets (an act that took 15 hours of work unto itself), and dutifully take notes after speaking to someone face to face. But the portrait that ensued—just on the cover of the report!—is a literal universe of conversation that, Felton points out, "overshadows the communication sphere of our ancestors."
All 5,699 people and companies in this network shine as stars of relative size to their speech. In the center, his girlfriend, Olga Bell, appears as a massive hub, its gravitational force influencing Felton’s other activities and interests. You have businesses like Flickr, Kickstarter, Seamless, and J.Crew that are assumably spamming his email, along with the catch-all faceless mass classifications of Female Cashier and Male Waiter, the everyday people with utilitarian jobs who show up again and again in his life.
Now, you never get to see the actual contents of all of these conversations—some transcriptions are actually included in the report, but edited with black bars as a tease—yet Felton still quantifies just how many messages are going back and forth between him and his universe of contacts. And the figures are huge.
"I was amazed by the sheer number of words being read, spoken, or heard over the course of the year," Felton tells Co.Design. "In SMS alone, I am consuming and composing several novels a year . . . it goes to show that we are reading more than ever but in much smaller fragments and in more places."
Interestingly enough, those 44,026 text messages were written to just 87 people. And over 40,000 were to or from Olga. Contrast that to the 3,744 sources that received from or sent Felton roughly 30,000 emails. It doesn’t take a statistician to see that SMS is a surprisingly deep and intimate medium for us to communicate—we speak in-depth to just a few people—while email is a sort of catch-all pile for anyone and everyone to contact you.
The 2013 Feltron Report is available for preorder now for $30.