Human Screenome Project

“Time for the Human Screenome Project,”

Nature, January 16, 2020.  

B. Reeves, T. Robinson & N. Ram

(Read the article here)


Media are critically important in areas of wellbeing, democracy, poverty, violence, education, climate action and more.

But in spite of big data promises, no one really knows what people actually see and do on their screens in an increasingly complex digital world.

Consequently, research and policy is often incomplete, irrelevant or wrong.

Our project launches a data collection and computational framework that includes precise recording and mapping of fragmented digital lives.

Mapping the human screenome can be a critical and cross-cutting part of solutions and theories about social challenges involving media – from fake news to smartphone addiction to social media and mental health.

A smartphone in action

This video shows a sample movie of one person’s smartphone use for 3 minutes.  Every 5 seconds that the phone screen is activated, a screenshot is recorded, compressed, encrypted and transmitted to secure servers at  the Human Screenome Project at Stanford University.  The movie shows a compilation of screens that represents 15 mins of use over approximately 2 hours of one day.  The movie demonstrates that digital content is diverse and fragmented, with different content threaded into sequences that break apart traditional message (e.g., videos, news stories, conversations) but make sense to individual users.

Color bar indicates different phone application types (as categorized in our recent Nature paper). The “fuzz” on the outside of the color bar indicates number of words on each screenshot (as a proportion of the maximum number of words): The larger the fuzz, the less the words are on the screen.

(Video produced by Sarah Chey; Visualization produced by Nilam Ram)