Lifelogging – recording every single minute of your life – is quickly moving from science fiction fantasy to real life phenomenon. Of course to truly document every minute of your life today is still a daunting task. Although some people are already doing it, full lifelogging is time consuming, expensive, and limited in quality. But logging every single minute of your life is not the only way to lifelog. Each video, each picture, each email we create everyday is another piece of the puzzle that documents our lives. If you are like me, you are accumulating more and more of these digital pieces each year. This trend is accelerating, and within ten years or less it will be cheap and easy for most of us to record nearly every moment of our lives if we choose to do so. How much of your life will you choose to record, and how much of your life will be recorded by others?
Technology has already made it so easy to record our lives that many of us might not even appreciate how much is already being recorded. Gmail, for example, has a record of every single email I have ever sent or received for many years now. Those of us that maintain online calendars can tell who we were with and what we were doing on any given day for the last several years. I use my smartphone to capture several photos and videos per day without even thinking about it. Most chat programs allow you to record and archive every single online chat you have ever had. And these are just some of the more ubiquitous examples.
For those that want to be more ambitious about their lifelogging, there is a device you can wear around your neck that will take photos automatically around the clock. Ucorder makes a video camera that you can snap onto your clothing. And taking things to the ultimate limit is Justin Kan, founder of Justin.tv, who was originally famous years ago for broadcasting his life 24/7 to the internet for anyone to see.
Being able to explore our recorded past opens the door to a whole new world of possibilities. Arguments could be resolved by going back in time and seeing who really said what, rather than relying on flawed recollections of what we think we said. Crime could be revolutionized with recordings of who was doing what and where. Our entire past could be made accessible – from meaningful conversations with a loved one to trivial encounters with random people or places. We would rarely forget anything ever again. When we lose the keys, fail to recollect a desired piece of information, or lose some clarity on what something looked like – all of this can be fixed by looking back into our recorded past.
Our recorded past could be the best (or worst) movie we have ever watched. We could watch ourselves go to school for the first time, go on our first date with our future spouse, or go to our first job interview. It is a window into our past, with all it’s glory and blemishes. Some of these recorded moments won’t be our proudest, but ultimately I think we will gain great value from being able to access our recorded past.
Recording our lives is one thing, but being able to find a particular conversation or image of interest from thousands of hours of footage is a daunting task. Indeed, our ability to record information today is far ahead of our ability to organize and dig through that information.
The tools for searching through our lifelog are getting better though. Video and images almost always have a timestamp associated with them, so programs like Google’s Picasa are easily able to sort your lifelog by date. Software has recently made impressive strides in being able to automatically recognize and tag faces within images, making it possible to search for all images with a particular person in them. Devices with a GPS such as the iphone are now able to associate a location with your images and videos. This means it is now trivial to sort those recordings by location and then view them on a map. See below for an example of how an iphone does this:
But ultimately what we really need is something much more sophisticated than “sort by date” or “sort by location”. What you want to do is say “computer, please pull up the conversation I had with Dr. James about longevity a few years ago.” Such a capability is not here yet, but the foundation for its creation is already in the works. When you consider voice recognition technology and automatic speech to text translation that exists today, it is not unreasonable to expect Star Trek quality access to digital records in 10-20 years.
Even though the tools to search our lifelog are still lacking, this does not mean that those who are interested in lifelogging should stop their efforts. Lifelogging can begin now, and we can count on the ability to effectively dig through that lifelog in the future. Already I am lifelogging more each year. At my current rate, I am easily capturing several photos and videos per day. Even with this incomplete lifelog, when you stitch it all together it allows me to showcase an unprecedented digital diary of a single person’s life.
For my children, this lifelog is growing into an invaluble record of what they looked like, what they said, where they went, and what they were capable of during any day of their youth. I am not just recording the “big moments” like their first steps or their first words. Conversations, playing games, jokes, falls, fails, arguments, discoveries, crying fits…the minutae of daily life are all being recorded for my children and their loved ones to look back upon when they are older.
Many will say that such a massive lifelog of information is a useless pile of data. But this is very shortsighted thinking. When given the chance to view a video record covering years or even decades of our lives, I am pretty sure we all would find plenty of reasons to want to look back. Besides, given how cheap and easy it is becoming to record a lifelog, the debate about the usefulness of a lifelog can mostly be ignored. If you use the lifelog – great. If you don’t use it, then it didn’t cost you much to record it anyway.
Although lifelogging unleashes fascinating ways for us to explore our past, it also exposes us to possible embarrassment, or even worse – trouble with the law. It is a double edged sword, yet this is no different than with our actions that take place in the present time frame.
We all accept that actions we take in the present time frame are subject to negative consequences, but this doesn’t make us not want to live in the present. For most of us, the same will be true for recording our past – the benefits we gain from being able to retrieve our past will far outweigh the risk we face for our past actions. This is especially true if we consider that we will have full control over who can and cannot access our recorded lives. That is, unless our hand is forced by the real risk of a search warrant or a security breach. We will each have to decide for ourselves how to balance those risks as we record more and more of our lives.
As lifelogging becomes more prevalent, we will see that the book is yet to be written on the etiquette and law surrounding when we can and cannot record things. Is it appropriate to record your first date with someone? Would the two of you both be comfortable with having such a moment on record? That choice will be up to the two of you. Would a corporation really allow you to record your job interview with them? Probably not, and the law will likely support the corporation on that choice. It will be interesting to see how different individuals and entire cultures evolve to accept or deny the invasion of video recording into our daily lives.
As recording our lives continues to get easier and cheaper to perform, most of us find ourselves lifelogging more and more – taking more photos, recording more videos, sending more emails. The trend is unstoppable. Some of us will embrace lifelogging more quickly and more openly than others, but ultimately we are all moving in a similar direction. The gains to be had from these detailed records of our lives are fascinating, but the threat to our privacy is very real. I for one, tend to embrace inevitability rather than fight it, so I will continue to increase my lifelogging as technology makes it easier and cheaper for me to do so. If you ever see me in person beware – it will probably be recorded.