Drowning in unmanaged personal data

Drowning In Bricks
Photo by Walter Benson on Flickr

I don’t know what changed, but in recent months, I’ve started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of personal data that I have an interest in, that I’d like to keep, and that is entirely unmanaged by either me or anybody else.

Here are some examples. Note they are “non-traditional” personal data in the sense that few people who talk about personal data talk about it:

  • For medical reasons, I’ve recently needed to take a lot of pills at different times of the day. I’ve had to experiment with different schedules (e.g. to find a schedule that won’t make me drowsy at the wrong times), and some of these times are at night when I’m really sleepy and not in the mood of writing something on a piece of paper. I find myself asking: “am I sure that I took dose 5 last night at 11:30”? which is not a good question having to ask.
  • Correspondingly, I’d like to track how I feel related to the pills I took. That is definitely personal data, but how do I track it?
  • We recently got new carpets for about half of our house. I took many photographs of the flooring below the carpets, so next time we have to put in a new electric wire or whatever, we don’t have to go on a fishing expedition. (These photographs are “personal data” of the house, rather than of me, but that’s okay.) My iPhone put it into the usual family photo stream, but that seems to be the entirely wrong place — the family certainly does not want to see them, and there is no chance we’ll find them in the future there when we need them. But where else to put them?
  • California is in a water crisis. I’d like to track which household member uses how much water in the shower, and perhaps the water use of the dishwasher, the washing machine and so forth. (We aren’t irrigating currently, as our frontyard clearly shows …) How do I do that?

I’m sure people will point out to me that there is an app for this and for that, and that the water district or utility might have some web page with some graph or other. But neither of those really would help me:

  1. Some of this personal data needs to stay around for a long time. I do not believe, for example, that most apps will still be around at the time I will exchange the carpets next time, which might be 10 years (or if you believe the manufacturer, 25 years) from now.
  2. I have no plans to ever communicate to some random (ad-supported!) app developer which pills I take at which times for which condition, and whether they make me feel better or worse.
  3. Much of this data is only useful in the context of other personal data. For example, even if the water district had a website that showed water consumption 24×7 with a resolution of 1 minute, this does not tell me at all whether the water consumed on a Saturday afternoon was a washing machine, a dishwasher, a teenager, or all three together!

How do we solve these kinds of problems?

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