Personal Analytics: Cool or Creepy?

Personal AnalysisIn this Sunday’s Boston Globe I read an interesting piece called “Stephen Wolfram’s Personal Analytics.”

You may know Wolfram as the creator of “computational knowledge engine” Wolfram Alpha,  He is also the creator of Mathematica software and the author of  A New Kind of Science.

The Globe piece takes a look at a recent Wolfram blog post, in which he analyzes a vast trove of information about his personal behavior which he has been collecting since 1989.

Wolfram provides an interesting analysis of the patterns of his life, including things like the number and distribution of emails and phone calls.  He also scanned 230,000 pages of paper notes, and provides analysis of things such as the frequency of the mention of specific years (1900-present) in his writings.

Why conduct this sort of analysis? Wolfram believes there is a future in it. “There is so much that can be done. Some of it will focus on large-scale trends, some of it on identifying specific events or anomalies, and some of it on extracting ‘stories’ from personal data.”

I’m of two minds about Wolphram’s foray into personal analysis.

The data analyst in me finds this cool and exciting.  There is certainly much that can be done with this sort of analysis, particularly by researcher studying sociological patterns of work as well as future biographers trying to make sense of vast troves of data about their subjects.

The regular person in me finds it creepy to be able to look at such personal information with such clarity.  Personal information is in many cases intimate and private.  Not everyone will want their personal behavior patterns published on a blog or in a newspaper.

So let’s proceed with exploring useful ways to use personal analytics, but as in any case where privacy is concern, let’s go forward judiciously and with sensitivity.

What do you think – is personal analytics cool or creepy (or both)?  Share your opinion in the comments section below.

About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. Not particularly creepy when researching yourself. A bit weird, though – don’t you know you already? Might be very helpful for one’s shrink should one’s services be required.

    Pretty creepy when government and industry get hold of it though.

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