I remember when I had a French pen pal in school. My teacher had chosen her at random from a hat and we exchanged maybe three or four letters before our correspondence fizzled out, most likely due to prior playground commitments– which I now deeply regret prioritising. In an age where sending and receiving mail that’s not your monthly gas bill, is a sad but true rarity, surely pen pals are a dying breed; near to earning their place on the list of endangered species along with record shops, VHS and newspaper delivery boys.
But today, thanks to the very technology that’s fast-tracking the art of letter writing into our history books, I stumbled upon an exchange of the pen that could possibly make up for all the pen pal exchanges that ever fizzled out due to “prior playground commitments”…
Dear Data is the story of two women on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean, who up until this point have only met twice in person, but decided to get to know each other through postcards. But not just any postcards.
Each week, Giorgia, an Italian woman living in New York, and Stefanie, an American woman living in London, collect and measure a particular type of data about their lives, from their daily wardrobe changes or instances of feeling envious to the amount of times their boyfriends/husbands inspired or annoyed them.
The data is then beautifully hand-drawn at the end of each week on the front of a postcard-sized sheet of paper…
While the back always includes a “how to read it” key to enable the other to understand the data collection.
I love looking at map keys, don’t you love them?!
My personal favourite from data collection themes is “a week of smiles” (below), in which the two pen pals tracked a week of smiling at strangers. This was the front of Stefanie’s postcard, full of colour and promise:
And on the back, Stefanie concluded the week should be renamed: “Why I’m an a** hole but so is everyone else.”
Sent from an English postbox and an American mailbox, the postcards arrive “with all the scuff marks of its journey over the ocean”, a type of “slow data transmission”, explain the two women on their blog, who both work with data for their day jobs and love drawing in their spare time.
Despite their parallel lives, each pen pal brings something different to the exchange, and I hope they don’t mind me saying that while I personally find Giorgia to be the more talented drawer, I think Stefanie is the funny one!
“Week of Our Time Alone”, Giorgia to Stefanie
“A Week of Wardrobe”, Stefanie to Giorgia
“A Week of Workspace”, Giorgia to Stefanie
“We are really just doing what artists have done for ages … we are trying to capture the life unfolding around us, but instead we are capturing this life through sketching the hidden patterns found within our data.”
“A Week of Mirrors”, Stefanie to Giorgia
“A Week of Phone Addiction”, Giorgia to Stefanie
While manual data collecting can of course get a little obsessive (take a look inside Stefanie’s notebook), the ladies also wanted their project to show how “data is not scary, and that you need to know almost nothing about data to start collecting and representing it (just a pencil, a notebook and a postcard!)”. You can go through all their records of the entire process here.
“A Week of Complaints”, Stefanie to Giorgia
Certainly far more beautiful than scary, the Dear data project has opened up a new file space in the MessyNessyChic Library of Stuff I Like. I think I’ll label it “The Unlikely Art of Data Collecting”. Sounds like a good coffee table book.
“A Week of Interesting Things” from Giorgia to Stefanie.
↑ I thought this postcard was an appropriate theme to finish with.
Discover them all on Dear Data.