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Quantifying the self

Lifelogging and its possibilities

Correction appended February 18

Imagine a miniaturized version of yourself clinging to the head of a bullet as you travel through space, while hopelessly struggling to observe the world around you. At any given moment, our visual systems are being flooded with information from the world around us. Amid this stampede of stimuli, our brains have evolved to attend to significant incoming data and ignore irrelevant distractions. For instance, one is more likely to pay attention to a sexual partner than a cardboard box, because one poses a far greater evolutionary advantage than the other. Because we never see the world exactly as it is, our memories will also reflect these biases, revealing that our perceptions and recollections of reality are distorted.

These inherent limitations of our species have given rise to lifelogging technologies, first-person video recorders mounted on the user’s body that  intend to capture the entirety of a person’s life. The LifeLogger camera records high-definition video and is coupled to a cloud-based online database, which serves to process and organize the mountains of data. The device, positioned to the side of one’s face, has a GPS, is motion-sensitive, and is able to live-stream events from your perspective to anyone in the world. Further, the GPS permits one to know exactly where they were and in which direction they were facing during these recordings. It is even possible to search for a sound recording and extract other moments when this sound was heard. The device is not only capable of face-detection, but stores every instance of every face ever observed, and permits one to search and replay their moments with this particular person.

It is not difficult to imagine the implications of this technology on social media. If individuals begin to share their video-logged data, rather than scrolling through photos of a friend on Facebook, we will be able to search through every instance of their life; perhaps searching for our own face in their LifeLog, and experiencing ourselves from their perspective. Another lifelogging device known as Memento is marketed as a “searchable and shareable photographic memory.” It may become normative to upload one’s entire life for public viewing.

In addition to visual and auditory stimuli, it is possible that future lifelogging will include information about smell, touch, and spatial location, allowing one to fully experience another person’s life. Although this may appear unrealistic, consider the oPhone, a device that records and shares smells, which was developed by Le Laboratoire in Paris in collaboration with students at Harvard University.

Despite undeniable privacy concerns, the benefits of such a technological social revolution are limitless. These technologies may be implemented to overcome the inherent limitations of subjective reporting and anecdotal evidence. The benefits to psychologists, epidemiologists, historians, and other scholars would be stupendous. Lifelogging devices may also be used to assist those with untreatable neurological conditions. For instance, researcher Lorena Arcega and her colleagues at San Jorge University, published an article in the open-access journal Sensors to advocate the use of Lifelogging to combat the fallibility and deterioration of memories, particularly with regard to Alzheimer’s disease. Further, those with prosopagnosia, a neurological condition that renders the patient unable to recognize faces, would be greatly assisted by the face-detection enabled by LifeLoggers. More generally, those with visual agnosia, a neurological condition where a person  can see but not recognize objects, would be assisted by pattern-detection algorithms that identify objects in one’s environment.

Though the possibilities are fascinating, there are potential hazards to remembering everything. One person who is naturally endowed with this ability, Jill Price, describes her inability to forget as a curse. Her affliction is known as hyperthymestic syndrome, and the overwhelming information she stores affects her ability to relax and compromises her capacity to sleep. Nonetheless, it is unfair to equate innate photographic memory with an external LifeLogger. Whereas Price felt internally overwhelmed, one who lifelogs is not obliged to rewatch difficult experiences in their lives and is free to delete these recordings.

Lifelogging will revolutionize the way in which we perceive the world, our own lives, and the lives of others. In addition to quantifying our bodies by sequencing our genomes, our species is likely to continue the quantification of our subjective lives. Though subjectivity is an inherent property of an individual, lifelogging may assist in erasing the barriers that separate our subjective selves.

The article previously stated the iPhone is a device that records and shares smells. In fact, it is the oPhone. The Daily regrets the error.