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The idea of a ‘world brain’ that acts as a perfect memory prosthesis to humans is not new.

Fig. 1 H G Wells 

In the late 1930s, British science fiction writer H. G. Wells wrote about a “world brain” through which “the whole human memory can be [ .  .  .  ] made accessible to every individual.” Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 51)

I think to keep a lifelog is to invite sharing. It’s so Web 2.0.

It may be extreme, but some will do it, just as people keep a blog, or post of a picture taken every day for a year or more. The value and fears of such ‘exposure’ on the web have been discussed since the outset. There are new ways of doing things, new degrees of intimacy.

‘Obliterating the traditional distinction between information seekers and information providers, between readers and authors, has been a much-discussed quality since the early days of the Internet’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 83)

‘By using digital memory, our thoughts, emotions, and experiences may not be lost once we pass away but remain to be used by posterity. Through them we live on, and escape being forgotten’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 91)

At a faculty level I have twice created blogs for the recently deceased.

Fig. Jack Wilson MM 1938

It was with greater sadness that I did so with my own parents with my father in 2001 and my mother in 2012. While, by recording interviews with my late grandfather I moved close to the conception of a digital expression of a person. It doesn’t take much to imagine a life substantially ‘lifelogged’ and made available in various forms – a great tutor who continues to teach, a move loved grandparent or partner to whom you may still turn …

Source: wikihow.com via Peter on Pinterest


Fig. 3. Bell and Gemmel  imagines lifelogs of thousands of patients used to in epidemiological survey. (Bell and Gemmell, 2009. p. 111)

This has legs. It ties in with a need. It related to technologies being used to managed patients with chronic illnesses. It ties in to the training of clinicians too.



Is lifelogging a solution on the lookout for a problem?

Fig. 1. A hundred cards in a hundred days. Away from my fiancee I gave up the diary and posted her one of these every day.

I’m from a generation where we have a record in letters. Does a digital record simply enable more ofthe same kind of thing?

It is true that the worth grows as they years pass, that to know what you were doing a year, three years, ten years or two decades ago at least puts a rye smile on your face.

‘If you have ever tried reading an old diary entry of yours from many years ago, you may have felt this strange mixture of familiarity and foreignness, of sensing that you remember some, perhaps most, but never all of the text’s original meaning’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 34).

Which is why Bell’s approach my diminish the mind, not enhance it.

The mind reworks a memory every time it is relived – it isn’t the same memory when it reforms on a shelf in your mind. Whereas Bell’s ‘memory’ sits their unchanging. Crucially it lacks the mental context, connections and connotations of the person. Indeed, it isn’t a memory at all, it is simply a digital record snapped by a device. Afterall, it is a false input – lacking the filter of the person’s eyes and senses. The laziness of such a lifelog has serious flaws. Just because it can be done, does not mean that it should be. If it is to be done, then it should be research led, or as part of a problem solving, outcome driven project. Supporting those with dementia or cognitive disabilities, aiding those recovering from a stroke …

Is lifelogging a solution on the lookout for a problem?

Forgetfulness Bell and Gemmell, 2009. p. 52) doesn’t sound like a worthy cause, better to learn to remember, better to enjoy and use those around you – family and friends. Alzheimer’s disease is a cause. Parkinson’s too. Possibly those with cognitive problems. Could lifelogging be an assistive technology for those prone to forget? Does the lifelog to such a person become the calculator to anyone struggling with more the simple arithmetic? A prosthesis to their mind?

What might we learn from diaries and blogs?

Who has benefitted from these? What therefore might we gain from a lifelog? It matters who is the lifelogger. However, the lifelog by the very nature of keeping one, impacts on the life. You don’t want to keep a diary and do nothing. It invites you to be adventurous. On the other hand, it may invite you to live within the laws of the land, and moral laws.

Would Pepys have kept a lifelog?



The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, both externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster's Second ...

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster’s Second Life? (Photo credit: Berkman Center for Internet & Society)

Fig.1.  Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, but externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

If human remembering is the weak link, then perhaps memory needs to move from the brain to some external storage and retrieval device. By drawing or writing, we capture an event, an emotion, a thought. Looking at our own drawings or reading our own words aids us in remembering, making it possible for us to recall more, and do so more accurately’. Mayer-Schönberger (2009. p. 28)

Does a weak or false link matter?

If an author looking for material for a teen love story would it matter a jot as the parameters for the story would need to be met by fiction, not fact. Can we so easily make-up stories based on fact, if we are encumbered by the actuality?

Being selective though there are times when an absolute record may be of value – a surgeon operating so that multiple aspects of the experience can be shared, at a distance with colleagues and students.

An artist in their studio, working in a niche material and using rare craft skills not simply preserving their actions, but doing so in a way where many followers get as close as they can be to sitting at his shoulder? And of value to the protagonist, to identify mistakes where improvements could be made.

On the other hand, the act of creating your own version of events, of reflecting afterwards, adds value, adds originality and perspective, like the director’s voice talking through a movie they have made.

The real-time record lacks the context of the person’s thoughts.

These ‘inner-workings’ are surely of greater value to prosperity?

In addition, to personally make the effort to externalise events by taking notes, by creating a drawing or chart, or table … by translating the essence of the experience for others into a form we recognise we etch it into our memory. It benefits from the phsyiological attribution, something that will be lost if the ‘memory’ is gathered automatically.

It matters that we select as we go along, listening to someone talk, but only seeing them or caught by a conversation on another table as we are served, or watching the traffic and thinking of a cycle ride we had a child.

Memory creation is not as literal as a digital snap … and when we hear, as any professional sound recordist will attest, we filter out a huge amount of noise.

Mayer-Schönberger (2011) takes us through a brief history of how we externalise our thinking and touches on painting. ‘Painting is perhaps the oldest form of establishing external memory. It creates an image of a scene or an event, whether real or envisioned, and thus enables remembering’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 29)

If I want a record of events, translated through my mind’s eye, then perhaps a drawing or painting is a better way to do it than to write about it? Then again, a ballad might do the job. Either are preferable to a poor ‘absolute’ digital recording of what took place from the odd-perspective of my chest (or the chest of another) via a cigarette-packet sized gadget hanging around my neck.

A record of what I read and watched might suffice.

Why complicate it by creating a personal digital log of all the above where so much will in future simply require a link – so not some grabs of a text book as I read it, but the eBook, not parts of a film that catch my attention, but the film in its entirety. This supposes a record that is even greater than that experienced, but one which may be of greater value to others so that they can ‘live’ a life alongside, rather than stepping into the shoes of someone else. This may be a more valid and useful way for someone to pick through the digitised memory too – as a video editor or director, at arms length.

Fig.2. John Seely Brown speaking at the Open University in 2007

‘The emphasis, though, is on mixing and recombining, on creating a bricolage as the former head of famed Xerox PARC John Seely Brown has suggested, in which the value is derived from the (re) combination of its parts, not necessarily from the parts themselves’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 61)

Dreams of technology enhanced learning as a micro-chipped jelly-fish in a digital ocean

Fig. 1. I visualised the biological and digitised memory as a huge, translucent jellyfish.

It is a deliberate exercise to fall asleep with a book or eBook in my hands and in my head. This may even be a mid-evening exercise lasting between 20 and 45 minutes. It works if I remember what goes on and then write it down. There’s no way this can be digitally grabbed.

In the skin of the jellyfish there is a microchip. This microchip represents the digital record, the stamp like artefact that is a snap of time, a set of images, a sound-bite, a record of the creatures physiological outputs. The rest of the creature is what isn’t capture – the tendrils of the jellyfish the synapses that connect the bulk of the creature memories that defy definition.

It isn’t a digital memory. The visual or sensory capture is a fraction of what forms the memory.

Not is memory static. It is forming and reforming, diminishing, refreshing and fracturing all the time. To grab a ‘memory’ is to capture and box a set of impossibly complex electro-chemical reactions. It is multi-dimentional too – when I see the Royal Cinema, I feel a sticky ice-lolly stick on my neck, I smell the fusty, cigarette-smoke embedded chairs and here the announcement of the serial. And what I see is filtered through my mind’s eye, not a lense.

I don’t see it in high definition.

There are three kinds of memory: (Bell and Gemmell, 2009. p. 53)

  • Procedural (muscle memory)
  • Semantic (facts that you know that aren’t rooted in time and place)
  • Episodic (autobiographical)

Perhaps if I am going to wear a gadget around my neck it should record something I cannot see or sense?

At a different wavelength or spectrum. i.e. telling me something I don’t know.

‘Biological memory is subjective, patchy, emotion-tinged, ego-filtered, impressionistic, and mutable. Digital memory is objective, disappassionate, prosaic, and unforgivingly accurate’. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009. p. 56)

The first is a memory the second is not. Bell appears to think that ‘memory’ is an artefact that is capable of a digital record – it is not. Nothing that MyLifeBits has done is a record of a memory – it is simply stuff digitised. For something to be called a ‘digital memory’ then it will need to have the attributes of its biological and analogue form.

A memory is a product of our lapses and distractions.

It matters that we daydream, as well as focus. It matters that what we see or experience once needs to be experienced a second, third and fourth time so that meaning aggregates and our minds adapt. What Bell is describing is a massive, relentless, comprehensive attempt at keeping a diary. Would it not be more useful to hire a personal assitance? If you have the wealth to support it have, like Winston Churchill, a secretary at hand to take dictation? This has to be a close proximity to the record of a memory as it is formed?  

With the written word came libraries.

‘If you have ever tried reading an old diary entry of yours from many years ago, you may have felt this strange mixture of familiarity and foreigness, of sensing that you remember some, perhaps most, but never all of the text’s original meaning’. (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 33)

On Gordon Bell – his goal is nothing short of obliterating forgetting. (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 50)

I wonder if the quest to make an Artificial Intelligence like the human mind will be a more fruitful one that trying to turn a human mind into a digital one? That adding AI attributes to a database will achieve more, than by thinking of the human as nothing more than a bipedal device from which to record external goings on?


The diffusion and use of innovations is complex – like people.

Fig. 1 Who’s the digital native which one is the immigrant? 

There is no evidence to support any suggestion that there was ever such a group as a ‘digital native’ and it is sensationalist claptrap or lazy  journalism to talk of ‘millenials’ – there aren’t any. The research shows the complex and human reality. It is not generational.  (Kennedy et al, 2009., Jones et al. 2010., Bennett and Maton., 2010) I’m not the only father who knows more and does more online than his kids – we had computers at university in the mid-1980s and in the office within a decade.

Bell and Gemmel fall for the falsehood of the ‘Millenials’. (2009. p. 19)

Fig.2. The devices we use do not split us across generations.

On digital natives or millenials add that behaviours supposedly attributable only to this younger generation are also evident in anyone using these tools and devices – the digitally literate is impatient and is easily distracted.

This applies to anyone who spends much time online. It is not age, gender or race related. We all fidget if downloads are slow or we lose a signal. We’re just being people. It is not generational. Rather behaviours with this tools reflects who we are, not what the kit affords.

Fig. 3. Whether you were born before or after this arrival doesn’t make a jot of difference.

So you here anyone calling our parents the ‘TV generation’, or the generation before that the ‘Wireless Generation’. It is shorthand that   is harmless until it is used to define policy.

They refer to those born between 1982 and 2001 as a homogenous cohort, as if they are all born into families where they will have access to gadgets and later the internet as a birthright. The figures given by Bell and Gemmel (2009) stick to those in North America – just the US or Canada too?  So what if a few become software millionaires. Others aren’t getting jobs at all. And there are plenty of other ways to earn a crust.

Of the 70 million they talk about how many have been interviewed?

When it comes to the use of various online tools and platforms what actually is their behaviour? Its the same behaviour they’d show out in the real world, at school or in the shopping-mall, making and losing friends. And when it comes to blogging, who knows what is going on. The authors assume (2009. p 20) that there is some kind of truth in what people post – that in my experience blogging for many hours a day since 1999 is far, far from that. Indeed finding the honest voice is the one in 30,000.

There is a considerable degree of fakery, and blatant fiction.

I am reminded of the entirely fictitious ‘Online Caroline’ of a decade ago. She posted a sophisticated blog for the era, with photos and video chat. Like Orson Wells following an audience over the invasion of earth this blog had people calling the police when Caroline’s CCTV supposedly logged someone nicking stuff from her flat.

Bell and Gemmel (2009) talk about lifelogging as a panacea.

Fig. 4. The context in which we learn

There are lessons and techniques that have their place. In fact we’re doing a lot of it already. Through several devices or one we are recording, snapping, storing, sharing, loading, compiling, curating, mixing and remembering.

Every example given is a positive, a selected moment on which to build … what about the times of heartache and memory, of parent’s arguments and childhood bullying. Do we want those? If trying a cigarette, getting drunk, being caught in the open with a dodgy stomach or vomiting?

The authors, Gordon Bell and Gemmel (2009) as well as  Viktor Mayer-Schönberger  (2009)  consider four issues in relation to the creation of digital memories:

  1. Record (digitization)
  2. Storage (cheap)
  3. Recall (easy)
  4. Global Access (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 14)

A fifth should be how this content is managed and manipulated, how selections are made and how it is edited and fed back to the content’s owner, or how it forms another person’s memory when picked up and mashed online.

As (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 16) puts it, to cope with the sea of stimuli, our brain uses multiple levels of processing and filtering before committing information to long-term memory .

Could decluttering the hoarders house be achieved by creating for them a digital archive and putting everything else in the bin?   

Human Memory

Fig. 5. How we forget. And where software and tools can play a part to help us remember – to create more memories and better recall. 

We forget (perhaps an implicit result of the second law of thermodynamics).  (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 21) Or a fact. A neuroscientist needs to get engaged at this stage. What IS going on in there?

Let’s say that memory formation could be liken to the aggregation of coral.

This memory has had no opportunity to fix in this way if it is a snap-shot of the an impression of a moment detached from its context – what was going in, how the person was feeling, what they thought of the events, how these would colour and shape their memory .

We are prone to mis-attribute

Language is a recently recent phenomenon (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 23) Should we therefore remember in images?

Painting dates back some 30,000 years. The written language is even more recent (6000 years ago) as pictographs became cuneiform became an alphabet –  so would an oral tradition be of more value?


Bell, G., and Gemmel. J (2009)  Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything

Bennett, S, & Maton, K (2010), ‘Beyond the “Digital Natives” Debate: Towards a More Nuanced Understanding of Students’ Technology Experiences’,Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 26, 5, pp. 321-331, ERIC, EBSCOhost, (viewed 13 Dec 2012).

Jones C., Ramanaua R., Cross S. & Healing G. (2010) Net generation or Digital Natives: is there a distinct new generation entering university? Computers and Education 54, 722–732.

Kennedy G., Dalgarno B., Bennett S., Gray K., Waycott J., Judd T., Bishop A., Maton K., Krause K. & Chang R. (2009) Educating the Net Generation – A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy. Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Available at: http://www.altc.edu.au/ system/files/resources/CG6-25_Melbourne_Kennedy_ Handbook_July09.pdf (last accessed 19 October 2009).

Mayer-Schönberger, V (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age


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