Capturing Every Moment

What were you doing at 5:57 p.m. on Tuesday, January 9, 2007?
Most of us can’t remember that far back. We could wager a guess,
check a calendar, call a friend, but pinpointing our exact location
and activity might be difficult. Hasan Elahi, on the other hand,
not only knows what he was doing, but has the photographic evidence
to prove it.?

Anna Weinberg reports in
Good, that Elahi, an
art professor at Rutgers University, started his self-tracking
project out of fear for his safety. In 2002, he was accosted at
a Detroit airport and interrogated by the FBI about his
whereabouts on September 11, 2001. The calendar on his PDA
provided him with an alibi, but the FBI continued to question
him for six months. He started to worry, Weinberg writes, about
‘a midnight abduction to Guantanamo,’ and so he began
Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project
in the winter of 2002. The website features a GPS map giving his
exact location at all times, photos of every meal he eats, every
urinal he uses, every place he visits, and bank statements to
corroborate his claims. Part art project, part security measure,
Tracking Transience allows Elahi to take comfort in the
fact that, ‘If I do disappear, numerous people from all over the
world will notice that I’m missing.’

Writing for the
Chronicle of Higher Education, Scott
Carlson describes a series of similar endeavors — dubbed
‘lifelogging’ — around the world. Microsoft Research appears to be
one of the frontrunners in personal recording technology. The
company has recruited a 72-year-old computer engineer to record his
conversations, save his emails, photograph every event he attends,
and track himself using GPS. The project is called
MyLifeBits and is an attempt to find ways to
archive and search through vast amounts of lifelogged
information.

An assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University is using
SenseCam, a camera invented by Microsoft Research, to help
Alzheimer’s patients. The device hangs around the wearer’s neck and
snaps a photo every minute, much like a stop-action film. The
purpose is to ‘figure out which visual cues are useful in prompting
memories,’ Carlson reports. Researchers at Dublin City University
are also using SenseCam, but their goal is to figure out how to
navigate lifelogged information. They’re working on video software
that can scan through the photos and find interesting activities,
such as action sequences.

Carlson reports that some researchers see lifelogging as the way
of the future and believe that it could eventually become as
popular as blogging or MySpace. ‘I fully believe that we will all
be wearing this stuff all the time,’ Mark T. Bolas, associate
professor at the University of Southern California, tells
Carlson.

Some of the benefits are tempting: reliable alibis for every
situation, recordings of good memories and valuable ideas, history
to pass on to one’s children. But the creepiness of pathologically
documenting one’s words and actions might turn some people off.
Carlson decided to conduct his own personal recording experiment.
He hung a digital audio recorder around his neck with a sign that
said, ‘Warning: This conversation may be recorded.’ He found that,
not only were other people uncomfortable being recorded, but the
device affected his own behavior and captured moments he wasn’t
sure he wanted to remember. ‘One weekend I got tired of wearing the
recorder and put it in a drawer,’ he writes. ‘I felt liberated in
way that is hard to describe.’

Go there >>
Enemy of the State

Go there, too >>
On The Record, All the Time

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