Words from the future

A message from the future you

I’ve always been interested in listening to people talk about their past. There are lots of good lessons in listening to the advice people might have given to a younger version of themselves.

Someone asked the question “If you could send an anonymous text to yourself 5 years ago, what would you write?” on reddit. Naturally I was interested in the replies. You can see this thread in the following link. Text from the future thread – reddit

The few short words from the responses stuck out as a mixture of real, sad, funny, and crazy. Think about the question for yourself. What would you text the younger you from five years ago. Maybe nothing important. Maybe the only thing that has ever mattered. These few, brief words provide a portal backwards into time. Each word crtitical. A half decade’s worth of knowledge and advice tailored specifically for you. How powerful. How truthful. Maybe painful. Maybe funny. Maybe some other emotion. Or none at all.

I went through about 2,000 of these comments to find which specific individual words had the most meaning for the people who cared to respond to the question. I’ll go over the process for anyone who is interested in doing this with similar data. It’s a pretty inefficient process as it uses Excel and the whole process can be automated but it’s listed here regardless.

  1. Copy and paste the data to Excel.
  2. Manually delete rows of data that are not appropriate. Many of the rows were blanks or included only the username and did not contain the responses so I deleted these.
  3. Parse out the individual words from the responses using a word frequency macro. Excel word frequency macro
  4. Use a stopword list to remove the most commonly used words (a, about, above, … , your, yours, z) that likely do not have any impact on the words we are interested in. Stop word list
  5. Manually go through the list of words and remove words that seemed unimportant (Ago, Didn’t, Doesn’t, Doing, Five, He’s, I’d, I’m, Isn’t, It’ll, Lot, Message, Oh, Send, She’s, Tell, Text, Wouldn’t, You’ll, You’re, Yourself, You’ve)
  6. Use an online word cloud tool Word cloud tool

If you are working with larger data then I would advise you to look into some tools specific for the job. There are plenty of online word cloud generators, such as the one linked above, that you can paste an entire text into. This removes the Excel work and makes generating word clouds pretty much instantaneous. For me it was only a couple minutes of extra work and I had complete control over the end result so the trade off seemed worth it.

The end result is the following:

Words from the future
Words from the future

The top 100 words and the number of their occurrences are included here:

  • Don’t: 724
  • Time: 162
  • Life: 147
  • Stop: 145
  • Buy: 116
  • Love: 111
  • School: 96
  • Fucking: 93
  • Stay: 81
  • Fuck: 79
  • Shit: 78
  • Won’t: 77
  • Job: 75
  • Start: 74
  • Girl: 71
  • Million: 70
  • Money: 70
  • College: 68
  • Leave: 64
  • Trust: 57
  • Roll: 56
  • Worth: 56
  • Friends: 55
  • Move: 53
  • Try: 52
  • People: 51
  • Date: 50
  • Save: 50
  • Lottery: 47
  • Break: 46
  • Gonna: 45
  • Quit: 45
  • Meet: 44
  • Bitch: 43
  • Actually: 42
  • Future: 42
  • Regret: 41
  • Bitcoin: 40
  • Guy: 39
  • Spend: 39
  • Help: 38
  • Look: 38
  • Bitcoins: 36
  • Probably: 36
  • Sell: 36
  • Day: 35
  • Change: 34
  • Friend: 34
  • Hard: 34
  • Dad: 33
  • Listen: 33
  • Invest: 32
  • Dump: 31
  • Home: 31
  • Winning: 30
  • Happy: 29
  • Little: 29
  • Lose: 29
  • Girlfriend: 28
  • House: 28
  • Late: 28
  • Waste: 28
  • Believe: 27
  • Care: 27
  • Crazy: 27
  • Feel: 27
  • Marry: 27
  • Worry: 27
  • Yes: 27
  • Family: 26
  • Please: 26
  • Relationship: 26
  • Study: 26
  • Talk: 26
  • Worse: 26
  • Idiot: 25
  • Live: 25
  • Mom: 25
  • Months: 25
  • That’s: 25
  • Bad: 24
  • Drinking: 24
  • Instead: 24
  • Play: 24
  • Stock: 24
  • Ass: 23
  • Past: 23
  • Ruin: 23
  • Trying: 23
  • Car: 22
  • Class: 22
  • Forget: 22
  • Seriously: 22
  • Matter: 21
  • Okay: 21
  • Own: 21
  • Can’t: 20
  • Dick: 20
  • Die: 20
  • Enjoy: 20

A mix of regret, get rich quick schemes, love, financial advice, school, work, feelings, hope, important people, relationships, mixed in with some internet language. Seems about right.

So you may not be on reddit, and you may not feel like answering, but if you could send an anonymous text to yourself 5 years ago, what would you write? Or maybe the better question is, if you received a text message today from the future you, how would you respond?

Cheers.

2 thoughts on “A message from the future you”

    1. I do not have the complete initial raw data . I am missing the user names, time stamps, up/down votes, etc. I do still have all of the comments and they are in alphabetical order. If a user ever entered another paragraph then this is shown as a separate comment. If you want more than that then you will have to grab it from the initial post.

      Data for text message word cloud

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