4. September 2013–
So far today I have recorded a run on Runkeeper, assured my horribly nagging Water your Body app that yes, I have managed to hydrate myself, told Weightwatchers that I have had oats and banana for breakfast (as well as almost a full bottle of wine last night) and posted the standard picture of my cat onto Facebook. All before 10am.
Now, as well as giving a frightening little window into the pathos of my pre-work routine, it should also hopefully draw your attention to the fact that one of the primary uses of smartphones these days is to quantify your daily actions.
A quick straw poll around the office reveals that apps such as Dollarbird (daily expenditure and accounts), Sleep Cycle (to wake you up at the optimum moment), Moves (to keep track of your, er, moves) and Clue (ovulation tracking) are all used on a regular basis.
Saga is the next logical conclusion in the quantified self app sphere – marketing itself as a one-stop lifelogging tool, it passively collects data from movement and GPS sensors in your phone, as well as through whichever apps you give it access to, from a selection of Facebook, Twitter, BodyMedia, FourSquare and Instagram.
From there, its AI learns your habits and builds a profile, eventually making smart recommendations for things that you might like – or need – to do (from seeing the new Wes Anderson movie to picking up some more soya milk, presumably). It's thrilling and slightly unnerving stuff.
From the digital outlands to everyday activity
The term "lifelogging" has come a long way since Gordon Bell coined it in his 2009 Total Recall book. Bell, a senior researcher at Microsoft, participated in a 10-year experiment called MyLifeBits, that saw him map his entire life digitally, using a SenseCam, biometric devices and voice recorder.
But in 2009, this was still the stuff of science fiction, for digital outliers with SenseCams strapped to their chests and a Hackerspace membership in their Dockers. Today, it's an everyday occurrence. One of the early supporters of the movement has been Esther Dyson, an investor in health tracking watch Basis and Evernote board member. She claimed earlier this year that “there are going to be one or two serious players who are going to be big in this quantified self area, helping people to aggregate all this personal data about themselves."
The new lifelogging gadget brigade
So "quantified self" has shifted to the less-geeky moniker "lifelogging", and we're already all using our smartphones as rudimentary tools to achieve this. But now a next generation of gadgets is evolving to keep up with the process. And the key is automation. The less we have to log in, press record or be aware of the process, the more seamless and integrated into our lives it becomes.
SenseCam successor Memoto is a prime example – clip the tiny cam onto your clothes and it will automatically start snapping – two images per minute and up to 6,000 snaps. It's equipped with a GPS and a clock, and images are organised for you in the Memoto app, searchable by time or location, providing you with "pictures of every single moment of your life". Yikes. But hurrah – it could spell the end of smartphone-toting gig idiots.
But the Swedish startup has obviously struck a chord: its Kickstarter campaign went stellar, raising over $550,000 – ten times its goal.
In a similar vein – and also Kickstarter-funded – is Kapture, a device that VentureBeat describes as a "fat, ugly wristband" that continuously records the last 60 seconds of audio of your life. If something awesome should occur, you can just tap it and it will save the last recorded minute and zip it over to the accompanying smartphone app for sharing.
While I have my doubts about the audio format, the concept of not having to frame every shareable moment, but simply to tap on a device to snip your best frames retrospectively from a stream of ever-recording data is the real draw. Take cats or babies – always doing the cutest of things... just before and after a camera is pointed at them. In an ideal world all their natural actions would be recorded, paving the way for even more adorable internet memes.
Arguably, the two existing big-hitters so far are Google Glass and the new Samsung watch. While both might be marketed more at utilising existing apps and services in a wearable form, I think use cases will prove that the most fun is from their lifelogging capabilities (already, the famous Robert Scoble Google Glass Shower Scene is etched on my retina).
How will being "always-on" change our lives?
Privacy issues are the two words guaranteed to be in the last few paragraphs of any lifelogging article. And yes, it raises some interesting hypotheses. Could lifelogs be used as evidence in court? Could they be subject to the same sorts of governmental surveillance as we've recently witnessed? What of the other people you are recording? How can they opt out? Wear a pixelated balaclava at all times?
We're also gifting an increasing amount of personal data to private companies, which is, of course, something that should make us wary. But it's also a devil's deal that most of us are accustomed to, thanks to Facebook.
Personally, I'm most interested in the effects on the human psyche – my brain is already rewired to think in status updates and short attention bursts. Will being "always-on" create a new generation of self-aware exhibitionists or daredevils? Or will it be so seamless that we simply won't notice? Or are we inching ever-closer to our experiences and consciousnesses being down/uploadable into a Matrix/Neuromancer-style network? To digital immortality? Who knows, but for now I'm going to stick to recording the cat memes and let the future take care of itself.
For related posts, check out:
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch to debut in Berlin this week
Idealists, cynics, and the fate of humanity – why we’re so bad at predicting the future
Robert Scoble brings Google Glass to Europe: “I’ll never live another day without it”