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Dear Data: Snail Mail Taken to the Next Level

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When was the last time you received a personal letter in the mail from a friend? It was probably decades ago with today’s digitally saturated world of communication. The way humans communicate has dramatically changed from sending a letter through a messenger boy on a horseback to using WeChat to talk to our relatives from across the ocean. I’m not sure which is better, but there is something precious about when a friend (or even a stranger) dedicates the time and effort to handwrite a message to you. For me, a birthday card is more valuable than any gift a friend could get me because anyone could buy an item, but not anyone could write a genuine card (fun fact: I have a box filled with every birthday card I have ever received since I was eight).

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Two award-winning information designers decided to experiment with a more tangible approach in order to get to know each other and themselves better. “Dear Data” is a year-long, analog data drawing project by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. Giorgia is an Italian designer who lives in Brooklyn while Stefanie is an American designer who lives in London. Every week for a year they would decide on an aspect of their lives to collect and then visually document it on a postcard to send to each other across the Atlantic.

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I came across their project months ago, but recently, it became a 300-page book. This project reminds me how much detailed information from our daily lives that we’ve become desensitized to. For example, how much we say “thank you,” laugh, or spend time alone. Some may say these aspects are so minuscule in the grander scheme of life, but I argue that the details in our day to day is where we are truly living. Life is not only about the big moments where we get our dream job, win an award, or finally go on that dream vacation. These monumental moments are a build up of many smaller moments. This project helped the designers slow down and reflect on their day to day living. It helped them pay closer attention to how they navigated their days and it helped them learn more about each other. While collecting data sounds mathematical, their visual elements are whimsical, imperfect, and very human. For most people, they document their entire lives through their smartphones, whether it’s texting, taking photos, or videos. In 50 years, I wonder if there will be any physical objects left to document our lives or will it merely be our beloved hard drive and memory card? This analog project is a simple yet beautiful, tangible way to document a year of living.

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What do you think you would learn about yourself if you collected data from your daily life for a year?

Here is a video from the authors.

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September 16, 2016
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Experiments
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