storytelling

I’m just returned from my 15th college reunion. I’ve brought some body aches home with me, so part of me still feels like I’m in the middle of it. [FWIW, this is not only alcohol-related pain; Colgate is built on top of a hill so steep and tall it is nicknamed “Cardiac.”*] I’m tempted to write a pseudo-sociological analysis of reunions and why they inspire such a love/hate relationship among alums, but I thought I might make my point by illustration.

I have linked to Nicholas Felton’s “Personal Annual Reports” in the past. Felton assiduously documents his own life–where he is and when, with whom, but also what he eats and discusses–generating a volume of information that is astoundingly comprehensive and would ordinarily be mind-numbingly boring to discuss because he’s basically just a regular guy, albeit one who works in the rather more interesting arts/media sector, and in New York. But Felton is obsessed with creating stories out of these data, and he does so by using creative (but wildly conventional) displays of visualization.

For example, in his most recent report, Felton represented data from his father’s diary entries, classifying the topic of his posts by macro-categories (work, children, travel) and plotted incidences of each topic over the course of his life (or diary-keeping years of his life, which were most of them). What you see, in simple trend lines, is the rise and sunset of a career, the focus on children and grandchildren when they are young (but less interest in their college/early career years), and the importance of travel during retirement. If such data existed for all men on earth, imagine the comparisons: plots of all men born in 1974 across the globe; a comparison of bankers in Nairobi and Moscow, or plots that contrast the wealthy and the poor.

Felton’s genius is to inductively arrive at a kind of formal sociological analysis by optimizing technologies that allow him to capture ephemera, and visualization technologies that help him to create interesting narratives out of uninteresting data. There’s an interview with him up at Rhizome, if you want to learn more about him. Maybe some of the class of ’96 could take a look?

 

*Bonus trivia round:

The university’s campus was ranked as the most beautiful by The Princeton Review in their 2010 edition.

In July 2008, Colgate was named fifth on Forbes’ list of Top Colleges for Getting Rich, the only non-Ivy League college in the top 5.

Colgate is listed as one of America’s 25 “new Ivies” by Newsweek magazine.

In October 2006, Colgate was ranked as the second most fit college in America by Men’s Fitness.

Colgate’s heating facility is fueled by biomass, so it produces zero net carbon emissions.

In 1936, the Colgate swim team made its first trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for spring break training at the Casino Pool. This became a regular tradition for Colgate that caught on with other schools across the country, and proved to be the genesis of the college spring break trip.

 

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