Steps to Construct a Data Story
Open up an app, let’s call it the vault. The vault is lubricant for all of your plans. A small phone icon at the top of the screen reassures you that life is in motion again, be it practically (a trip to the shops) or ideally (a relationship). The vault is quiet—no ads or likes. Send a message, and receive a response. Check back later; the message remains. This particular vault harbors intimacy: virtual real estate for you and E.
You agree to esoteric notes. Now, software like blades plow the fabric of your day, gathering ripe information. “This guy in Starbucks keeps farting! 🤢,” you say. “Grim,” he replies. And somewhere down the line, a transaction takes place.
The vault betrays its name, as per agreement. Five months of chatter take two short seconds to export and share. Send to yourself, and in the cold light of email, peruse its gutted contents.
From a hospital bed, compile your data into sets of his and hers, summer and winter. The first and most recent two weeks of coupledom. Extract yourself from the tapestry of a relationship. A column for you and a column for E.
Do it in short energetic bursts. At 4am, in between headaches – you may as well. Your bed is parked on the ward’s gossip corner. The gossip, while comforting, does not welcome sleep. The supply door swings on a fluorescent loop. Staff mill around like reluctant martyrs.
Type as night bleeds into day. List out verbs, adjectives, nouns.
Summer – ‘swim’, ‘Spiddal’ – ‘sweet’, ‘moon’.
Winter – ‘test’, ‘dizzy’ – ‘ward’, ‘ages’.
Tidy your data, taking regular breaks. In the corner, click share, and begin to type: M –
Before your words arrive on Margaux’s screen, light must travel along fibre optic cables, measuring 6,000+ km in length.
Many gloved hands direct these cables. In boats, engineers go about repairs, arranging strands with pinprick precision. Fine hairs of glass slot into copper. Dipped in tar, they drape in silence across the deep Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Beneath them, the heart of the planet smolders.
A shark might grip one between his teeth, but most cables fail under human error. With the snag of an anchor, an entire island can drop off-grid for over a week.
Your code is somewhere along this route. When it arrives, you feel a gaze from Margaux’s small, round avatar. Her cursor flashes in pink, below yours.
The shock is wearing off now… Your head throbs with pressure. Rest for a while.
You have inflamed your brain, the primary organ of the Information Age. In full health, your body mingled effortlessly with the digital. Now on strike, it refuses integration.
Call up Margaux. She sits on the floor, searching for patterns in the data from your vault. Her brush strokes form code: upward for positive, upturned for negative, flower for beauty, X for time. Question: “What do E and I look like in data?” Answer: “Small, beautiful feelings and time.”
Pouring over Margaux’s vault now – begin to build worlds. Think like an engine: a couple in Ontario, she in her 20s, he in his 30s. Words of affection and grocery lists. A decision is made to purchase a bed. “Plush”, he types. He is skeptical of the vault. Other vignettes: a cat sends hives across sensitive skin. Their dotted intrusion preserved in words, in the indefinite patchwork of the couple’s vault.
When you finish, look back at your story with E. Sand in sheets, catching the bus. A mother nursing their child to health. Making plans and getting by. Margaux writes, “That’s romance, baby.” Why not ‘stuff’ and ‘bicycle’ wheels? Why not ‘apples’ and ‘coffee’ and ‘bed’? So much of life is simply ‘bed’.
Adjectives exchanged in texts during most recent two weeks of Meadhbh and Eimhin’s relationship. Visual by Margaux Smith.
Adjectives extracted from texts exchanged between Meadhbh and Eimhin across two fortnight periods.