A Google Spreadsheet for Your Thoughts

Laura Olin's "Thought Clock" project compiled the musings of anonymous people on the Internet.

What are you thinking right now, at this moment in time?

That's what Laura Olin asked last week in Everything Changes, her delightful newsletter that, well, changes in format, theme, and frequency each week. After subscribers answered her question, she compiled the thoughts she received into the "Thought Clock," an enormous spreadsheet listing each anonymously submitted thought with its corresponding timestamp. Olin put it this way in her email on Friday unveiling the results:

I didn't really know what would happen, but what did happen is that hundreds of people responded and I was able to sort what you sent in to make this crazy-big and amazing spreadsheet with a thought for almost every moment of the day.

I am calling it a THOUGHT CLOCK, which no is not a perfect metaphor, but doesn't that sound cool?

Oh, it does sound cool. So cool. I'm a sucker for conceptual Internet clocks, so I immediately deemed Olin's spreadsheet the Coolest Thing Ever and spent a good part of my Friday afternoon parsing through it. And there's plenty to parse through: The 768 thoughts Olin received ranged from one-word answers to whole paragraphs of musings over single or multiple subjects, some banal, some profound. Just look at this block toward the end of the document, between 10:18 and 10:20 p.m.:

Screenshot of Thought Clock

Or this one:

Screenshot of Thought Clock

Or this one, from earlier in the day:

Screenshot of Thought Clock

Without going too deeply into the thoughts of Internet strangers Olin collected, I decided to look at how often we think of certain subjects in the day: of ourselves, of our relationships, of our work. For each category, I searched for key words (e.g. "boss," "colleague," etc. for "work"), but also read and filed each one into the category or categories they fit. Many fell into multiple categories, which is why the following percentages don't total 100. Here's what I found:

Of the 768 thoughts submitted:

  • 483 were self-centric, using the words "I," "me," or "my" in the thoughts (63 percent)
  • 191 asked a question of some kind (25 percent)
  • 190 thought about work (25 percent)
  • 131 were about entertainment—a song or a film or something the thinker wanted to do for leisure (17 percent)
  • 94 focused on food, ranging from elaborate thoughts on dinner plans to single-word submissions, like "coffee" (12 percent)
  • 70 revolved around love and sex, and most of these involved Valentine's Day plans (9 percent)
  • 44 mentioned reading something in the news, or submitted a link to a news item they were thinking about (6 percent)
  • 35 thought about money (5 percent)
  • 17 thought about the cold weather (2 percent)

It's not too surprising to see that people think of themselves, what they're curious about, and their jobs the most—for much of any day, we're focusing on those topics. But, it is fascinating to see how the thoughts Olin compiled changed over time. Much like the Twitter account @AllTheMinutes, which retweets tweets that reference time, Olin's experiment showed a relationship between the time of day and the type of thought. Before noon, for example, most thoughts revolved around seeking coffee and breakfast, wishing for more sleep, or thinking about the day's to-do list.

More important, it can be oddly satisfying to see how some people ended up sharing the same thoughts during that week. Sometimes they ruminated over the same news items, but other times, they questioned the same things: where they should move or go on vacation, what they should do for their job or whether they wanted a job change, and who or how they should love.

Of course, 768 thoughts is a tiny sample size taken from a cool Internet project, and most people just submitted whatever popped up in their minds—random thoughts that came up for no reason. Like this one:

Good question. I suggest submitting that to the Shower Thoughts subreddit.