The Science of Ourselves

Image – bdorfman.

“In 1937, Mass Observation called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did and thought from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep  at night on 12th May. The resulting diaries provide a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of all sorts of people in the late 1930s. They are stored, with many other diaries and papers, at the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex. As it happened 12th May 1937 was the day of George VI’s Coronation and many people wrote about being involved in this national event.” – Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex

The original Mass Observation Project (MOP) was set up to create ‘an anthropology of ourselves’ to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Great Britain. Last Wednesday, MOP asked people to write as much as they could in 750 words about what they did on May 12th 2010 – my own diary which I submitted to the project is below.

MOP was interested in all the little details of daily life: who people met, what they ate and drank, what they talked about, what they were working on, what they bought or sold, where they visited; and what they read, saw and heard around them, and what they thought. These are also the types of details that we and Homesense Project are interested in – the dailiness of human life, the detailing of the mundane and the everyday, and the ways in which technology can be shaped around those experiences.

Mass Observation Diary, May 12th 2010

My name is Georgina (although everyone calls me George) and I’m 31. I live in Brighton, but spend time in London for work and play. When I do I stay with my boyfriend – he’s 35 and lives in East London. I don’t have a typical day as I have a lot of jobs in lots of different places. For half of the week I work for a design firm in Shoreditch, as a researcher and project manager. During the rest of the time I do teaching, student supervision and research at two universities on the South Coast, and I also do a few hours at a comic shop in town too. It’s a big mix, but I like it.

I wake up at my boyfriend’s at 7am. Whilst he’s downstairs making coffee I check the news online; by the time he comes upstairs I have a rant about the lack of anyone other than straight white men in the new cabinet. I get dressed, have my coffee and we say our goodbyes outside the house. My boyfriend cycles to work and I walk the five minutes to the Tube where I wedge myself into the Central Line for the two stops to Liverpool St. From there it’s a five minute walk to the office, through the sudden divide where the shiny City stops and the scruffiness of Shoreditch starts. I listen to The Prodigy on my iPod to blow out some of the cobwebs of my bad mood, and bound into work feeling chipper.

My boss is already in so we catch up on work and gossip over more coffee, and talk about ways that the office furniture could be rearranged to accomodate more people. There isn’t really a ‘normal’ day at the company – sometimes I’ll be at my laptop all day, chasing up people and information and writing research bids, conference talks and blogposts; sometimes I’ll be out at client meetings or on site for large projects. Today I stay in, talking to our interns about their work, writing, setting up various meetings and having our weekly team chat about the state of things. It is busy in a peaceful way.

I have my lunch at my desk – leftovers from the Lebanese takeaway that my boyfriend and I had last night whilst we’d started watching ‘The Wire’ from the beginning. I keep an eye on the news and on Twitter to see what is happening with the new government. By lunchtime I’ve switched my anger around: there is a woman in the cabinet now, but she is the Equalities Minister despite a homophobic voting record. We all talk politics – of the seven people in the office, only two of us were able to vote as British citizens; everyone else comes from Canada, Italy, the US, Germany and Spain. This is very similar to the composition of the department where I did my PhD and I am again very embarrassed to be such a typical Brit and only speak English when nearly everyone around me has at least three languages.

Later in the afternoon a project that I did some work on with another company is launched, so I spend time looking at it online. I’m the last out at 6.30pm and walk to meet my friend. It was her birthday last week but I missed it as I was away at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival at Butlins in Minehead; tonight we are heading out for some delayed celebrations. We start with some quick food – a tortilla hot dog and large rum and chocolate milkshake – before heading a bit further up the road for cocktails at a place which does slightly ludicrous overpriced raw vegan food, but very good drinks. We have three cocktails each with ingredients including beetroot vodka, green gin, peppercorns, and raspberries. My favourite is a very green Garden Martini with celery, cucumber and radish. We talk about finance, relationships, work and careers, Sam Rockwell, Liz Jones, and cocktail recipes.

I’d meant to go back to Brighton but the drinks are really quite strong so I take the tube back to Mile End instead and get in at 11pm. The blossom has finally fallen off the trees there and the new leaves are out. My boyfriend makes me some hot orange squash and we carry on the conversation I’d had earlier about finance, careers and work. He stays up a little later but I go to bed at midnight.

Leave a comment?