How Do You Quantify A Broken Heart?

The woman behind The Quantified Breakup blog tracks her heartache through her online presence.

How Do You Quantify A Broken Heart?
[Image: Flickr user edenpictures]

When hearts are broken, there seems to be a natural human tendency to try to quantify the loss precisely–either as a distancing mechanism, or as a way of putting boundaries on what otherwise seems immeasurable. The Tumblr Quantified Breakup uses a full range of social media tools to do just that.

Lam Thuy Vo is an interactive editor living in Brooklyn. She was married for almost two years and has been separated for four months. “At work I look at data and statistics and long-term trends. When you’re in the moment of a breakup you feel so crappy you forget that things get better. I was talking to a friend about the steps one goes through–the details, like public moments of crying on the subway, or buying really stupid things. He said, why don’t you make graphics about these things? I said, that is a really good idea.”

She shares everything from the aimless routes she takes to avoid her empty apartment (via Google Map, by subway, bike, and on foot), to her sleep patterns, documented hour by hour over 12 weeks, reconstructed from emails, Gchat, and iPhone notes.

She even records a tongue-in-cheek “conversation” with the voice-activated directions on Google Maps, where she implores “I’m lost. Where should I go? What should I do?” and the anonymous robot woman tells her, “Take the ferry. Take the train. Head north. Head east. Head west. Head south.”

There’s an odd kind of solace in the idea that even when we seem most alone, our digital companions are constantly watching over us, keeping track of our whereabouts, glowing softly in the dark while we sleep. In this age, everything from your first glance at a stranger to your first date can be captured and choreographed by social media, so why shouldn’t breakups be the same way?

For Vo, it’s been a good exercise, and a way of connecting while gaining perspective. “It’s a good way to occupy myself and hopefully puts a smile on people’s faces, because we all go through the same things on some level. And I’ve since talked to other people who have come out of relationships, and it’s nice to commiserate in that way.” She has a few more ideas for breakup posts, and then she wants to take the project in another direction. “My friend was saying you should start doing something about dating, about love. And then you can see a journey out of misery into happiness.”

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.