Sociology of numbers
Degrees of likeness 2

Degrees of likeness 1

The NYT team just put up a fantastic visualization of the American Time Use Survey data, which purports to measure how the average American spends the time of a day.  (Apparently, thousands of people recalled what they did every minute of an average day.)  The amount of data collected is massive, and this graphic allows readers to explore the data in intuitive ways.


The chart shows for each minute of the day (horizontal axis) the proportion of people doing specific activities.  Not surprisingly, we spend more time sleeping than any other type of activity.  The axis and data labeling as well as gridlines are very restrained.

Normally, I am not a big fan of these proportional area charts because the only relevant dimension to look at is the vertical distance from one curve to the next but the focus on areas put equal weight on the horizontal and vertical distances.   The horizontal distance is meaningless, and thus the area is meaningless.

These designers found a solution to the problem, and good for them!  Because of the mouse-over effect, I could not save the actual appearance -- here, I show what it looks like.


By mousing over different parts of the graph (say, moving vertically), we can compare the actual proportions.  Terrific!

The key interest of this graphic is the following legend.


While the above graphic shows the use of time by all Americans in aggregate, this panel allows us to zoom in on specific groups of Americans.  How alike are Americans?

Reference: "How Different Groups Spend Their Day", New York Times, July 31 2009.



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Indeed! I saw this in the print edition and was impressed even without the fancy mouseover bells and whistles!

Thomas Lotze

Very interesting! I think one of the reasons the proportional area charts works so well here is that the area does represent something interesting in this case: the total daily amount of time spent on that activity.

Let me also mention two other things I thought made this particularly good:
1) The ability to click on any single area and turn it into a bar chart, so you can drill down and quickly compare a single activity between groups.
2) The fact that they seem to have sorted the activities, I'm guessing by some weighted average of time during the day. This makes the interaction of time and daily progression between activities stand out.


Interesting infographic to the left showing the decline of the "music industry".. Not one of the Times' best works, IMHO.

Craig Sullivan


You might also want to look at this article on what we've been eating in Britain for the past 30 years.

Jeff Weber

These population charts become dynamic if you hold your mouse over.

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