A little while ago, my friend John and I were chatting about the marvels of Last.fm (the social music website that monitors what music you're listening to so it can recommend you new stuff) and John made an interesting observation - that this kind of data doesn't just report on what you do, it tells you who you are.
John's right. Data's not just helping us understand the world, but ourselves. New ways of capturing information about our behaviour are throwing a mirror on our lives like never before; telling us what we like, how we act and what we do, rather than what we think or claim we do (even if why we do some things is still a bit of a mystery!).
In the past, if someone asked me what music I listened to, I might have been biased by what I'd been listening to recently, what was popular or what I thought they liked. Now, Last.fm will tell me what I've really been listening to at the click of a button and how that compares to other people. Naturally, there's a big, long tail, but here's my top artists right now. Maybe they'll help you get to know me a little better?
But why stop at music? Everyone's favourite database, Facebook, has an increasing array of tools to help you analyse the information you put into it. The one I've discovered most recently is TouchGraph, which turns your social network data into a map that lets you see how all your friends are connected. So this is my Facebook life, at a glance. Suddenly, I can tell you that there's about 10 groups of people I mix with online - with my current workmates being the biggest. It'd be interesting to try this again in a few years, to see how much changes!
If friends and relationships are all a bit big for you, why not check out Mycrocosm - a website developed by MIT that helps you share information from the minutiae of daily life, all in the form of simple graphs. Ever feel like analysing where you drink your coffee, how much sleep you get or what you have for dinner? Well this one's for you..!
The quest to understand who we are has been at the cornerstone of enlightenment ever since the Ancient Greeks inscribed the Temple of Apollo with a deceptively simple instruction: "Know Yourself". Now, whether we're keeping track of our listening tastes, our social connections, our little habits, how fast we jog, how safely we drive or how often we have sex, new tools to report on our behaviour are appearing all the time. The question, therefore, is not whether we'll know ourselves better in the future - but how much we'd like to know, whether we'll like what we find and what we'll do about it afterwards.
Personally, I've no idea what I'll learn about me - but I do know it's going to be fun finding out.