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Lifelogging 101: How to record your life digitally

Man with camera attached to cycle helmet

What if you could remember everything? Not just birthdays and photos, but your entire life. Technology is now affordable and powerful enough to make this a reality. This is lifelogging – using computers to extend your brain and outsource your memory.

 

What is lifelogging?

Lifelogging (also known as e-memory or sousveillance) is the act of capturing your daily experience – images, sounds, activities, documents, conversations, and even thoughts, and storing them digitally. Once stored, your “life bits” are indexed into a searchable lifestream, a continuous timeline of your life. The computer can then analyze your stream to give you reminders and insights exactly when you need them. Watch the video on the left, which clearly conveys the concept of a lifestream.

It’s a promotional video for AllofMe.com, one of many emerging lifelogging products.

Lifelogging is not about putting your life online, the so-called “lifestreaming” or “lifeblogging” encouraged by the likes of  forums such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. It’s about having a private digital record of your life. You may decide to share decide some of it, but that’s a separate issue.

Why would I want to record my life?

The urge to capture parts of your life is a basic human instinct. From storytelling to the written word, from cave paintings to ciné films, we have been saving moments and replaying them for as long as humans have had language.

Today we are continuing to record increasing amounts of information about ourselves – digital photos, video clips, and online journals. In the future we’ll store even more. With a complete digital memory of your life, you’ll be able to recall forgotten names, places and numbers, relive important moments in your family life, and be much more organized.

So how can I record my life?

Here are some steps you can take today to begin lifelogging:

1. Keep all your emails.
Use a web-based email service like Gmail, and all your e-mail conversations are stored indefinitely. If you need to recall the name of a customer service agent you corresponded with, remember when your colleague promised to get you a report by, or find a picture your Dad e-mailed you, you can do so in seconds via a simple keyword search. No more worrying about whether you kept it or which computer you downloaded the mail on. Use an online calendar too, and you gain a permanent record of your past meetings and events – where you were and when.

2. Record your conversations.
Enable chat history logging in your instant messaging software, and record your phone calls. For example, you can add to your digital record by making your calls on Skype and automatically recording them, or by plugging a call recorder into your phone line. Not only will it be handy in disputes with utility companies, but you’ll never again need to forage for scrap paper to scribble down a phone number or address.

3. Photograph everything.
With a digital cameras and a large memory card you can create a photographic record of everything you see – vistas, buildings, signs and even people – at close to zero cost. Some cameras now come with built-in GPS, so that your photos are automatically geotagged (marked with the location where you took them). Or, hang a camera like the ViconRevue around your neck, and it will automatically snap away whenever something interesting happens.

4. Use your phone to record your thoughts.
Get a smartphone (such as an iPhone or Android) and you can use services like Reqall and Evernote to “jot down” thoughts, ideas and reminders when they come to mind. You could just use a voice recorder, but a smartphone has more capabilities. For example, if you see a book you want to read, you can take a snapshot of the cover with your cellphone. Or, if you hear a song you like, you can use Shazam or Soundhound to identify it and save it to a playlist.

5. Track your health.
Use a pedometer to record your daily steps, and keep tabs on your exercise. Use a Fitbit or Bodybugg to track your sleep patterns or calorie intake. Philips have a range of health monitoring devices that track your weight, blood pressure, pulse and more. All of this makes you better informed about whether you’re getting healthier or lazier, and helps you keep fit.

6. Record what music you listen to.

Use a service like last.fm to “scrobble” a record of what music you listen to. You can even install it on your smartphone. If you’re out and about, you could use Shazam for the same purpose. Music can be a powerful memory trigger, so this could be a useful extra context for your lifestream. If you’re inclined towards hacking, try hacking your PVR to do the same with your TV viewing.

7. Track your computer use.
RescueTime monitors what applications you use and what web pages you visit, helping you improve your productivity. If you use Google Web History or a web-recording service like Hooey, you’ll never struggle to find a site you’ve previously visited again.

8. Use Dropbox.
Dropbox keeps your files safe. It saves a backup copy every time you save a new edit, making it easy to step back in time and see earlier versions. This idea of keeping an edit history and letting you “roll back” changes is a key concept behind wikis like Wikipedia. Look for edit-tracking features and you’ll always be able to go back to earlier versions.

9. Organize your photos.
Adding a few tags to your photos when you transfer them to your computer can make them infinitely more findable later. iPhoto and Picasa can now identify faces in your photos and automatically tag photos by the people in them.

10. Digitize everything.
Find a document scanner at your office or local library, ideally one that can email you a PDF – or buy your own scanning devices (most printers include a scanner now). You can then scan many of your possessions and dispose of the originals, keeping only your most treasured mementos. Digitize your receipts, business cards, handwritten notes and other miscellaneous paperwork and you can rid your life of clutter. It doesn’t only save space; OCR software can index the text within your scans, so you can search them. Sometimes, you won’t need to scan things – You can often download product manuals and bank statements and archive them easily.

I’ve got all this data, now what?

As you can see - The technology to capture our lives is here today. But tools to manage your life data are still emerging, and storing and organizing all this data is admittedly going to take some effort – applications and devices sometimes don’t speak to each other, so you may need to spend time finding a workflow that works for you. Here’s what I suggest:

11. Organize your lifestream data in one set of simple folders.
Buy a large external hard drive for your home computer (these are fairly cheap now), and offload all your capture devices daily or as often as possible. I recommend one simple folder structure for all your archives, years containing months and perhaps divided into events within that. Look for software that lets you tag your files too with additional context such as project names, people or topics. Then use software like Spotlight or Google Desktop Search to search your lifestream quickly and easily.

It’s a lot of work right now, but it’s getting better. Research projects like Gordon Bell’s give a glimpse of what will be possible and how a digital memory can transform your life. Right now, he needs a research team to tend & organize his data – but in future, software will make this possible for all of us.

Software is starting to harness your e-memory too. With RescueTime, you can set goals like “spend no more than 1 hour per day on email” and be alerted if you’re in danger of breaking it. With Reqall, you can be automatically reminded of shopping lists or birthdays while you’re at the store. Soon we’ll have software assistants with many helpful new capabilities. The good news is that if you start lifelogging now, you’ll have plenty of data to work with as the tools get better and better.

Here’s some further reading, and if you’d like to know more about the subject, watch the video below, which accompanies the book by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell:

Total recall Total recall: how the E-memory revolution will change everythingC. Gordon Bell; Dutton 2009WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Image credit: dorkcam by dnorman on Flickr

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