Roman Mars (RM): This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.
The 2009 Feltron Annual Report
RM: From this moment on, I want you to record every encounter you have with another person.
RM: Each mode of transportation.
Methods of transportation: 23
Nicholas Felton (NF): Like if I walked through the door, I’m writing down the name of that store.
Total locations reported: 258
NF: I just want to know every single place that I go.
RM: That’s Nicholas Felton. A.k.a Feltron.
NF: I’m just trying to build a super rich dataset.
RM: Datasets that he will interrogate at the end of the year, designing pie charts and bar graphs that are used to create a precise infographic that tells the story of Nicholas Felton’s year.
NF: Is it going to be through the lens of, like, my favorite ATM or is it going to be through the person I spend the most time with.
Most encounters with one person: 226
RM: He calls the beautifully designed result “The Feltron Annual Report.”
Nate Berg (NB): Well the thing that’s really relatable about this report
RM: That is the voice of freelance journalist Nate Berg. He interviews Felton in New York for us.
NB: Not only is it clear and kind of easy to understand in the sort of graphs and pie charts that we’ve all gotten used to seeing all over the place, but it’s presenting stuff directly kind of out of my own life too.
New York Restaurants visited: 111
NB: How many restaurants did I go to last year? How many beers did I drink?
Ice cream flavors consumed: 9
NB: These are all things that I do. ANd having the data and the ability to present it helps draw that connection between two, essentially, strangers.
RM: All the easy, dismissive criticisms about Foursquare check-ins and Twitter should be popping into your mind right now. They all boil down to this: why do I care about what you had for breakfast this morning? And I get that. But a funny thing happens when you take what you had for breakfast this morning and multiply it by a hundred of its quotidian equivalents and multiply that by 365.
NB: he’s doing exactly what everyone else is doing. He’s just doing it in a more purposeful way. It’s not only that he wants to track what’s happening and see how his life changes over time, but present it in a way that’s digestible to himself and to other people. Even strangers.
RM: What Nicholas Felton creates with all that sprawling information superficially resembles a corporate quarterly report, but it’s the most beautiful version of that that you could possibly imagine. A true work of art.
Most consecutive exclamation marks used: 8
NF: 2008 was a pretty boring year. I didn’t travel very much so that highlights were like ‘first ice cream of the year,’ but it’s this elaborate piece of design work that took weeks to create and costs thousands of dollars to produce to document one tiny memory that would have been totally lost otherwise. It’s my favorite way of telling stories now. It’s this way of making things that are either invisible or too large to be comprehended- making them visible rather than the abstractions of looking at tables of numbers. There are pretty compelling and memorable ways of revealing invisible stories.
NB: It puts more focus on the little things that make up most of your time. Your life isn’t really that trip that you took last summer. It’s the countable times that you walked down the same way to get to your office- that one house on the corner with that crazy dog. You know, how many hours of your life have you spent listening to, like Hotel California on the radio.
RM: I have to break in here to say this is where a normal public radio show would play the song Hotel California. But I am your friend. And I would never do that to you.
NF: That’s the beauty of this kind of representation is you can take something that represents millions or even billions of actions and reduce it to something that’s consumable.
Average waters per day: 0.24
Average beers per day: 0.99
RM: Felton has been doing this in-depth self-reporting since 2005. At the end of 2010, his father died. And so the 2010 annual report took on a whole new scope.
NB: He took that same approach and applied it on a much grander scale to someone’s entire life. The life of his father.
The 2010 Feltron Annual Report
NF: I didn’t want my 2010 report to be the story of my father’s death. I think his death is the least interesting part of his life story.
Items cataloged: 4,348
NF: So I wanted to make something that talked about his life
Passport stamps: 239
NF: It’s like writing a biography about someone. It’s just in a different format, I think. And perhaps a more valid one, one that’s rooted in the facts. It is a direct translation. There’s very little of my opinion that shows up in here. It’s further back, it’s in the editing and in the curation that my opinion shows up.
Postcards received: 169
Photos of Gordon in the record: 93
Percentage of photos of Gordon wearing a tie: 18%
NF: It’s his life story so it’s bookended by his birth and, sadly, by his death, but you know, that’s one of the things I want to remember about him and I think is part of his story. That’s the day he died. And that was what the weather was like, as the next statistic. I’m not trying to be shocking about it. But it needs to be in there. And I wanted to have a little repose at the end, where you could sort of just absorb the end of his narrative.
Last day: September 12, 2010
NF: I didn’t want to dwell on sickness or, you know, his spirit fading. I think that’s in there if you look at a lot of the graphs you can see a decline in meals- how it’s foreshadowed throughout the document that the spring in his step was diminished in his last few years. My challenge was to try and take that idea of a biography and put it in a new form that I hadn’t seen before and, you know, you have to give up on not seeing him smile, like not seeing him in motion, not hearing his voice or listening to his jokes. But. That’s part of the aggregate view, that’s part of this grander scope that I was going for.
Weather on September 12, 2010: 49.8 degrees Fahrenheit and overcast
RM: 99% Invisible was produced this week by Nate Berg and me, Roman Mars. You can find Nate’s work at nate-berg.com. I should also mention that the voice of data in this piece was done by the lovely and talented Mrs. Mae Mars. The show 99% Invisible is made possible with support from Lunar, making a difference with creativity. It’s a project of KALW, 91.7 local public radio in San Francisco, the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco, and the Center for Architecture and Design. To find out more, including links to the Feltron website and the annual reports, which you really do have to see, go to 99percentinvisible.org
Roman Mars (RM): This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.