April 23, 2013

Tracking personal activity at AAG: A cautionary tale of big data and lack of sleep

At FloatingSheep we are always seeking to push the envelop in terms of user-generated data, and so when it came to our attention that someone we know was sporting a Nike Fuelband, we couldn't resist taking a quick look at the data. For those of you unfamiliar with the Fuelband, it is a bracelet one wears to capture activity and exercise and "precisely" measure caloric consumption. Even better, it awards "points" so that you and your cyborg friends can compete for bragging rights. To be honest, we don't quite understand the appeal, but have little doubt everyone will be sporting these things in the near future as we bow down to our digital overlords happily greet each new consumer product as it arrives.

In any case, a well-known friend of the sheep (FOTS)[1] was sporting one at the recent annual meetings of the Association of American Geographers two weeks ago and was kind enough (or suffers from some sort of twisted exhibitionism) to share the data with us so that we could share it with you (see below). This FOTS was kind enough to also add yellow ellipses during his/her sleep periods and a handy counter of the daily ration of sleep (in terms of hours).


To provide a bit of a base line, the days before the conference (which began on Tuesday) are also included.  Note, the conference was in LA (Pacific Time) but the data is presented  in Eastern time, so the activity is actually three hours later than indicated in the chart. The big takeaway here is that this FOTS had only 13 hours of sleep from Tuesday to Sunday (mostly between 4 am and 8 am) until s/he boarded a plane and collapsed on Sunday. Given the crude nature of the data, other patterns are harder to distinguish but peaks in the late evening or early morning suggest dancing or other activities.

While just looking at this chart makes us tired (as well as giving us a headache) it does allow for some preliminary observations:
  • There is an important late-night component to the AAG (and academic conferences more generally) that deserves further study...sounds like a good field opportunity for auto-ethnography;
  • A cost saving measure for certain conference attendees (such as this FOTS) would be simply to not get a hotel room and stay up the entire time; and
  • Some people are having a lot more fun (or more precisely, activity) at the AAG than us.
We have no doubt that we'll be seeing more of this individual daily monitoring data in the months/years to come, and are placing bets on how long before it becomes smoothly integrated with GPS (the technology is already there) in order to produce spatial activity maps for everyone [2]. No more bragging about going to the gym (and then hanging out at the refreshment bar) or calling in sick so that you can go skiing. The data will know!

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[1] But if you think you know who it is, feel free to leave a comment.  Chances are that you are right.
[2] Think Hagerstrand's space-time prism on steroids. 

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