A week of being nicer
A performative week:
Can we “use” Dear Data to try to become better human beings?
It’s hard to say, but why don’t we give it a try?
This week we decided to actively work on our behaviors: we would be “very kind and considerate" with people around us on purpose: we would “be nicer”, we would force ourselves to smile, be kind and attentive and appreciative in situations where we wouldn’t have done it.
So this week we recorded every single performative act of niceness!
Disclaimer: during the first days of the week I was in Italy, at my parents' and at my in-laws' (:/).
Being “averagely" nice in this situation is already a big enough challenge,...being “nicer than usual” is practically a torture…!
But I was thrilled at the idea anyhow, I was curious to see what would happen.
I set up a series of questions on the Reporter app:
1. what was the nice act?
2. to whom?
3. how did I feel after it?
4. did they notice/react, and how?
5. other notes (was it hard? / could I do it more often? etc.)
I grouped my data into topics only at the end of the week: in fact, I didn’t want to decide and categorize the typology of kind-acts in the beginning. I truly wanted to see what would I feel spontaneously to do in the different situations, keeping one only aim in mind: I have to act nicer than I normally would have.
By looking at my data, I then macro-grouped my entries into:
- showing physical affection (hug / kiss / holding hand / caresses)
- making some time (to spend together / to help with tasks)
- showing interest (asked questions / listened / talked)
- cutting some slack (sparing my critiques - irritation - grumpiness - anxiety)
- physically helping people (carrying something for them / offering to carry / holding door / picking up stuff they dropped)
- apologizing (for my behavior / for something I did / for something I said)
- smiling! (just smiling more than I would have!)
Elements of niceness.
I drew every single act as a symbol, mainly represented through the kind of action it was and with attributes about whom I was nice to, and how I felt later.
Reading my postcard made me think, I actually spent quite a bit of time holding it in my hands before posting it in the mailbox: not only I could have been nicer, but, mostly, I should have felt better after trying to please the people I love…! What kind of person am I?! :/
By decoding my postcard I can tell that the smallest acts (such as smiling, apologizing, showing physical affection or physically helping people) are the ones that make me the happiest; …while taking some time I didn’t plan, or showing interest when I wouldn’t have, and especially sparing critiques and holding my irritation back triggers anxiety in me.
By looking at my postcard and at my data represented altogether I felt terrible, and different areas of my behavior popped up in my mind.
Why do I so often find myself treating the ones I most love the most bitterly? We shouldn't treat our loved ones less
kindly than we do strangers. But the reality is that we often do, or at
least I do. I also thought back to my “thank you card” where the number
of “thank you” to strangers (waitress, sales mane) or acquaintances was
hugely higher than the ones to my beloved.
This exercise has been painful, humiliating, but incredibly insightful, I reflected upon it, and I added some comments on my “Giorgia areas of improvement”’s Evernote (which I started after the week of compliments).
My remarks mainly embrace the fact that I should aim for a high standard of behavior, remember it and pursue it; improving my tolerance of my loved ones ‘idiosyncrasies, and, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching."
I was grateful I realized how self-centered I am, after this week. Not that I didn’t have any hint about it, but seeing it “in numbers” stuck with me way more.
I don’t think Stefanie enjoyed this week, we talked about it and you can tell it from her card. Though, I think we interpreted the topic slightly differently: I tried to be “nicer on purpose” while - as she wrote - she “only tracked nice acts that were truly heartfelt” ? I can’t wait to read her notes for the week!
My new resolutions aside, It was hard, very hard, to maintain my positive mood throughout the week; I was honestly relieved when the week was over.
Nevertheless, I’d like to experiment more with it: featuring some weeks where we measure acts and activities we do on purpose, specifically for the data collection - something we wouldn’t have done before.
For example, we could measure how many times we’re able to make a person smile, or how many times we are able to break a habit… I know it’s hard, but it’s valuable: otherwise, how could we truly try to change?
Data, and human relationships
I see Dear Data as the “tip of an iceberg” Stefanie and I share: not only our common approach, but also the kind of research we pursued during our past years as professionals in the field.
Personally, I am in various ways exploring the characteristics and the many aspects of human relationships.In my personal life I read of and get interest in human behaviors, personal self and psychology related topics most of all. I am fascinated by everything around relationships between people, getting deep into life situations, and finding analogies and differences in the way we, as human beings, think, behave and take decisions.
With my company, Accurat, we’ve been working regularly in the culture and entertainment industry over the last few years, creating static and interactive data driven visual narratives. When designing, especially for this specific audience, we believe one of the key features of our design process should always be a constant visual research to achieve pleasant and compelling and even new and unusual aesthetics through which representing our data analyses.
Sometimes, the act of loading an analytical representation with emotional investment produces attention rather than distraction, creates worlds that are evocative and nameless at the same time, able to inspire sensations, as long as we always respect the values in the data and we don’t manipulate the information.
Lately in my profession I started to explore how data-driven experiences can connect people, can be human and warm, if the experience is well designed: data are more than numbers, they can represent real life, they can be a snapshot of the world in the same way that a picture catches small moments in time.
Data can be emotional!
Data can link people!
A relationship between two people can be mediated by data!
Well, …It is not a chance that the first personal project I take in runs around data, the seek for producing beautiful drawings, a new human relationship and the exploration of our daily behaviors!
As Giorgia and I have moved through this project, we are aware of how the data-gathering process can often begin to shape our actions over the course of a week. At the beginning of the week, we act spontaneously and gather this data more easily, and the data snapshot we are capturing is more accurate and honest. However, around Thursday or Friday I can tell when I start to have ‘data-gathering fatigue’ and begin to get fed up of carefully noting down every instance of a particular dataset. At this point, the data-gathering begins to change my behaviour: I might begin to engage in a behaviour we are tracking, only to completely shut down this spontaneous response because I’m dreading having to capture that data, again. And again. And again.
Alternatively, the data-gathering may inspire me to increase certain types of behaviour, just so I can add the data point to my collection for this week (see A Week of Drinks: I know I definitely had a drink at before noon just to add it to my card!) We begin to ‘perform’ in certain ways during the week depending on the data we are gathering.
As a response to this performative aspect of data-gathering, we decided to gather data on how often we were nice to others this week in the hope that the act of data-gathering would help us stick to this challenge, so this was a week of trying to be nicer than usual.
Hmm...I’m not sure if knowing that I needed to gather data on all the times that I was nice this week actually helped me be more nice or not, even though I did try to be nicer, I promise! I did end up spending most of the week feeling an undercurrent of fear and stress while I searched for situations where I could be ‘nice’ in a bigger way than I would normally, which probably wasn’t the response that we were going for, but might instead be confirmation that I am a total asshole who is not very good at being nice (or maybe just a sarky individual who is not very good at personal improvement projects, ha).
Because I didn’t have many data points this week, I decided to highlight how much of an asshole I had been throughout the entire week by making my drawing very small to emphasise this. I mean, you can barely see the drawing on the card, right? Look how tiny and inconsequential those little acts of kindness are!
After receiving Giorgia’s card I realised that what I counted as a nice act was different than Giorgia, and this was the reason that I felt frustrated with this week's theme: the types of actions that I qualified as being nice were often ‘grand gestures’ involving money or some sort of ‘going out of my way’. Of course, that’s not the only way to be good to someone, and being kind involves more subtle interactions, such as listening, offering support, being present, and so on (ie like many of the actions Giorgia noted on her card, and like what I do on a regular basis, though unthinkingly). By comparing our methods of data-gathering, I’ve realised that it will be difficult for me to feel as though I am a kind person if I’m overlooking a wealth of kind actions that I do engage in just because they aren’t ‘grand’ enough. Also, I’ve noticed that I was equating buying things for other people as an act of kindness, when in reality, I don’t actually base whether I think my friends and family are good people on whether they buy me something or not. It’s interesting how when forced to confront these different internal rationales through gathering data on them, I often begin to notice that beliefs I thought were reasoned and well-thought-out are in many cases illogical.
(Note to Giorgia: the reason that my card seemed like I didn't actively try to be nicer is just because I forgot to explicitly mention this on the card! Any miscommunication is down to my poor annotation and labelling skills, haha)