A week of urban wildlife
I so much loved this week, I guess we both did!
It was Stefanie’s idea: “how about noticing and recording the nature and wildlife in our cities?"
We decided to go for animals.
Since we bot live in a metropoli, it’s not so ordinary to be in touch with animals, particularly wild ones, but as every New Yorker knows there are two exceptions here: dogs (especially small size ones), and rats.
This week I tracked and reported every animal I spotted during my journeys on the city, and added lots of attributes for dogs, since I knew I would see lots of them: their size, the color of their fur, their fur length, if it was on a leash (and if so, the color of the leash, since crazy colors are pretty common here), if it was barking, if it interacted with me, and how much I liked it.
I also added some information about its’ owners: whether they were a man or a woman, whether they were carrying a baby too (because yes many of them were), and if they were clearly walking their dogs in their pajama. :)
Oh! And I also reported when the dog was wearing a coat (!), or was wearing tiny shoes (!) or it was sitting in a bag (!).
Immediately on Monday, I also realized I could include when I heard birds singing in my collection, and I recorded it as well along with the intensity and duration of their chirping.
When I was fast enough, I also took pictures of my animal-spotting because I wanted to give Stefanie a real idea of what New York animals (i.e. dogs) look like!
(Luckily for me, only one rat (but a big one!) crossed my path during this week, probably because I didn’t take the subway at all, that is where it’s most likely to be approached by a mouse around here).
The most shameful revelation within Dear Data so far
My boyfriend and I don’t have a dog, and probably never will, but we like small dogs (even if I am a cat person I guess), and we have "our dogs that belongs to others”.
In fact, we very much like a few certain dog breeds, and for some reasons,…hem… we name those guys as if they were ours (!).
For example, little Jack Russels’ name is, of course, Poldo;
Dachshund puppies are named Piero;
thin Greyhounds’ name is Lattuga, and so on.
Okay, yes, this is very embarrassing, but in the spirit of this week, I couldn’t help but adding this notes to the logs when one of my spotted-dog was a "Piero", or a “Martino” etc.
And, as we pointed out already, the more we get into Dear Data the less afraid of sharing personal details we are; it is just fun!
Collaborative data counting
Apparently my boyfriend loved this week as well.
One morning in the beginning of the week when I got to the office he asked me “So, how many dogs have you spotted on your way? I got 5!” He was tracking as well!
And during the rest of the week he kept on suggesting me animals he caught sight of while we were together, and even though I decided to track only the ones that I noticed, I liked his participation and enthusiasm a lot!
The main idea for the drawing came to me while I was waiting for a friend at a pub with my beer: I realized it often happens to me that I envision the visual concept for my postcard not necessarily when I start analyzing the data and drawing but rather during the week after the collection is closed, while I am doing something else but I still have the previous week data in the back of my mind.
In the postcard’s layout I grouped my animals in areas according to their type.
Dogs of course take the greater space and the majority of visual attributes. The color of the elements in the postcard represents more-or-less the principal color of their fur, to give Stefanie a visual summary of my animal spotting.
I LOVE Stefanie’s card, it is definitely one of my favorite, I like how she organized the architecture of the visualization around where she saw the animal, radiating outward from where she lives, and I generally like her drawing very much!
I also learned loads of new animals names in English thank to her postcards! I had absolutely no idea what a parakeet, or a sea-gull, or a magpie was and I had a lot of fun looking them up on the dictionary!
The week is now my time-unit
This week I realized very vividly how much, so far, the “smallest" unit of time I experience is the week, it’s like the “day” no longer exists in my visual timeline of my past and my future.
A week is marked now by its topic, by the Sunday morning drawing, and by the ritual of posting my card, it is so neat in my mind!
It’s like keeping a diary with a weekly pace, where the timespan and the time-unit of the week helps telling your story not as “impulsively" as in a daily-diary report; and the (sort of) ‘objectiveness’ of the data we collect helps understanding what is happening to us and around us on a deeper and definitely more thorough way than a regular diary.
(Or, am I just crazy?)
I couldn’t wait to begin this week, as I was looking forward to spending a week looking more closely at the birds and wildlife that I often pass without notice in London, trying to spot and gather data on the most English and London-centric animals I could find to draw and send to Giorgia.
This week posed a particular data-gathering challenge: I was training for a long cycling trip so I was going out on my bike often, spotting animals on two wheels instead of two feet. This made it slightly challenging to record data: you can't stop and gather data every time you see an animal or you wouldn't even pedal down the road.
Instead, I had to try to remember long strings of animals in my head, repeating them in my mind over and over until I had a chance to stop and record them all.
So in my mind I might repeat over and over:
'Pigeon dog pigeon seagull… pigeon dog pigeon seagull… pigeon dog pigeon seagull… pigeon dog pigeon seagull… pigeon dog pigeon seagull pigeon!... Pigeon dog pigeon seagull pigeon...Pigeon dog pigeon seagull pigeon...Pigeon dog pigeon seagull pigeon...Pigeon dog pigeon seagull pigeon dog!'
and so on, continually adding to my internal animal list until I was able to stop and record my data.
This was a slightly-maddening process, and so was one of the first instances where tracking data impacted my ability to have a good time. While in other situations tracking data made me more aware, here the data tracking is getting in the way of me enjoying the feeling of freedom and relaxation as I pedal through my city (and might potentially prevent me from properly noticing cars, pedestrians and the like, oops).
Also, on the weekend, my husband and I cycled to the London countryside (thank you, husband, for helping me spot all the rare birds) and often I was so pleased to spot new animals that I was calling out ‘horse!’ or ‘wood pigeon!’ quite loudly while riding down country lanes. Of course, this conveniently always happened at the same a pack of lycra-clad cycle ninjas would speed past me up a hill… I can only imagine what they thought of the crazy cyclist yelling ‘horse! HORSE!’ as she faded in the distance, steadily and slowly pedalling in their wake.
Finally, this week was a turning point for me in regards to how I think about the data we collect. No matter how hard we try, we will always be unable to gather a scientifically-accurate dataset due to data voids, or forgetting to track, or just because we are human, and so very, very imperfect.
Instead, these cards really just function as the an accurate record of my
and Giorgia’s ‘noticing’ of the world around us, and being aware of our surroundings. And now that I realise this, I feel more relaxed about my data-gathering: I will do my best to notice what I can, but won’t be worried if
life / distractions / daydreaming mean I might miss a few things from time to time.
This week was a great postcard to receive from Giorgia as well: I didn’t realise how many dogs she would see, and how pampered these dogs were, with their clothing and their little carrying boxes and so on. As a Londoner, this feels distinctly ‘New York’ to me: dogs in London feel rougher, and bigger, and just not as spoiled (though this could be because of where I live, perhaps in fancier neighbourhoods it’s slightly different!)