We all grow up with a certain ambivalence towards astrology, some of us think of it as superstition, while others believe in it. Or at least want to believe. I was always fascinated by the possibility of a world ruled by forces that operate with clockwork regularity. Can Mercury’s or Venus’s location really have any connection to my life? My choices? My fate?
And then came big data.
For the first time, there was new way of observing humanity. I had a backstage pass to what was going on in not only people’s lives - but inside humanity’s sole. At that time i couldn't connect between the two (Astrology and Big data). But like most things in life - they find you. And then, on what seemed to be a really normal day, things started to go bad. My alarm clock didn’t wake me up, the bank’s ATM decided to swallow my credit card and the fancy meal i made for dinner couldn’t bare the idea of gravity, and fell from my hands straight on the floor i had just mopped.
While i was taking an artistic photo of the catastrophe that just accrued, and posting it online - it hit me! I immediately checked my favourite website of all times www.ismercuryinretrograde.com and i couldn’t believe it. Mercury was indeed in retrograde. This explained everything.
A sense of strange relief washed my body. There was a kind of comfort knowing there was a reason. And what about others? Are more people having a bad day too? Is it because of Mercury? All the pieces of the puzzle where there. All i had to do is compare main words (that are connected to Mercury’s retrograde affect) and see if people are tweeting them more than usual while retrograde than to the rest of the year.
If this works, i thought to myself, i could capture the true essence of the Astrological effect - the key to unlocking the mystery human kind has been trying figure out for centuries. So if i look at the way i have unlocked the value of big data - my success actually came from all my magnificent failures that day.
Or maybe it was all written in the stars?
When i began the first part of the project (comparing tweet’s under the influence of Mercury’s retrograde to the rest of the year) i really didn’t know what to expect from the hidden value, or if it even had any value at all. The day the results came i was pretty shocked.
Every time Mercury was in retrograde it had a clear affect on what people where tweeting. They where complaining more about communication issues, delays, decision making, malfunction of their electronic devices and more. There where actually 30% more “affected tweet’s” during the retrograde to the rest of the year. I knew i had to move on to Facebook. The user could be compared to his sign’s forecast. He could, for the first time in history, know what and how much he is affected by Astrology.
I started by designing for the user himself, so he could check how much astrology affected him, but i soon realised that in times when most of us are living our lives through virtual social worlds like Facebook - making friends, expressing our feeling, informing where we are going and what we are doing - my design should address that. I had to maintain his/hers virtual connections, virtual life, and lifetime timeline.
The philosopher George Berkley asked “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. It’s the very same way i feel about designing for big data. Only knowing that Astrology is real would not matter. By keeping the users virtual social world set, by organising and showing the data that he or she made and pointing out the effect - it was possible and crucial for the understanding.