Saturday, November 11, 2006

Flogging Gordon Bell's Memory

I forget where and when I've heard his name before, but when I got to the airport and picked up something to read on the plane, my thalamus filtered down onto Fast Company's cover article (What If You Never Forgot Anything? [use acces code FCNOVENG]) on Microsoft's Gordon Bell, ringing a bell in my head.

The bell ringing was attached to other dimly recalled bits -- Xanadu (or something like that... [ed:it's Memex]), a guy from the 1950's (what is his name [ed:Vannevar Bush]? I wish BWI had free internet access so I could google it), and past articles I've read about neurocomputer interfaces). The article is about this brilliant Microsoft researcher who has spent the last 7 years recording every single interaction he has. Conversations, phone calls, emails, faxes, paper documents... you name it. He accumulates an average or over a megabyte per hour, a gigabyte per month. He's obviously not keeping any video (but he does snap a photo every 60 seconds).

Why? It's an experiment in computer-assisted human memory, or maybe call it "memory augmentation". It's a log of your life, or a lifelog. Editor Mark Vamos would miss the ability to forget those memories which evoke embarrassment or regret, but the delete key (or hard drive failure) could take care of that.

Okay... it came back to me as I read the article. I've been to his website before -- MyLifeBits -- when I saw something about this a few years ago. I can see the utility of something like this.

Well, the challenge with this sort of thing (which, I must say, is pretty cool) is not in doing it. It lies in the ability to search the info... searching text (easy), audio (harder), and images (harder still) ... while also being about to easily access and efficiently use associated data and metadata.

If you want to start your own MyLifeBits experiment, writer Clive Thompson includes a 7-item shopping list [use acces code FCNOVENG]

So, I'm thinking about the impact this would have on Psychiatry. Now I'm putting myself in the patient's place. Recorders blaring, I could easily review my therapy session and get more bang for my emotional buck. If my therapist flogged too (flog=lifelog... I'm still on the plane so I cannot google "flog", but I'm sure that I can't be the first to coin this term), I could tap into her system and see my reactions from her perspective, maybe in a picture-in-picture sorta deal.

Some quotes...

"Frank Nack: 'I'm a big fan of forgetting. I don't want to be reminded of everything I said.' Forgetting ... is key to cultural concepts like forgiveness and nostalgia."

"...knowing that everything is being logged might actually turn us into different people. We might be less flamboyant, less funny, less willing to say risky but potentially useful things..."

"If you lose your keys, you can scroll back and figure out where you put 'em."

"But the real goal is to 'discover things that even you didn't know that you knew.' "

"In spring 2004, Gemmel lost a chunk of his memory... [His] hard drive crashed, and he hadn't backed up in four months. When he got his MyLifeBits back up and running, the hole that had been punched in his memories was palpable, even painful."

The article also reviews experimental software which mines the data in Gordon's LifeBits. It associates unexpected ideas based on past memories, recalls long-forgotten bits at just the right time, and creates new information, connections, and ideas buried in your flogs.

Like a good therapist.

This could put quite a few therapists out of business. But it would also open up a whole new area of psychotherapy -- lifelog-assisted psychotherapy ("flog therapy"?). This could only develop after folks have flogged quite a bit of their life, I would think. So the therapist would become a sort of guide, teaching folks new, psychodynamically-informed methods of mining their flogs and tapping into their "unconscious."

Well, I guess I've gone out on a limb here. But probably not much further than I did in Reality Therapy Vlog.

The flight attendant is making us put our portable electronic devices away and place our tray tables in their upright, locked, position. If I had my flogging equipment, I'd show you all her picture (looks kinda like Bjork, very cute) and you could hear her admonish the guy in front of me who was refusing to turn off his iPod. Alas, it will all be a dim memory in a few weeks. Gotta go.

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Sarebear said...


Flog ya later would be the new farewell.

Anonymous said...

And I thought he might just spend the flight dodging snakes...little did I know.

Having seen Roy's desk at work, I'd be a little scared (?horrified) to see his lifelog. You've seen one photo of socks on the floor, you've seen them all.

Midwife with a Knife said...

If you record all the little bits, doesn't it make the really memorable parts a little less special, or something? I dunno, something to me seems wrong with this. Also, it seems kind of cluttered. My desk at work is surrounded in piles of done/undone work (used to be separate piles, but they're converging), and if I can't keep a defined set of information in order, how can I keep every little interaction in my life in order? Besides, it would be easy to get kind of compulsive and weird about recording this stuff, and that would take time from the work I'm already avoiding. :)

Steve & Barb said...

Midwife, that's what the article author noticed about Gordon Bell. He would sometimes get distressed that he couldn't find a particular incident or piece of info which he knew he had somewhere. If you never get rid of anything, that would be particularly difficult.

So, Dinah, I must have a little Gordon in me, because about 2 years ago I bought a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner (great little machine that turns paper into editable PDF documents) and started scanning in, then shredding, all my piles. For me, it's very therapeutic, as I indulge my can't-throw-it-out-might-need-it-someday obsession while decluttering my area. It also motivated me to actually go thru a pile, tossing 3/4 of it. Lately, I haven't done much scanning, so they are growing again.

I haven't made any recordings, but there are times where I wish I could rewind something, Tivo-like, that I just saw or heard (like on the car radio... that would be a killer cartech device)... bip-bip-bip.

Flog ya later.

NeoNurseChic said...

Flog just has this negative connotation to me! I just keep having this image of a person cowering, hands raised, quivering, and saying, "Nooooo Don't flog me!"

(I know...I have a very overactive imagination!)

I have this gigantic, overflowing filebox of all this headache info I've collected over the years. Probably a good bit of it is complete crap. Some of it has to do with my personal headache journey whereas others are just bits and pieces of articles, info, drug summaries, etc. At one point, the former office manager for the headache center told me that I should scan it all into the computer and then get rid of it! Good call...I think the file box is in my closet, with a pile about 3 inches thick lying on top of it of things that don't even fit in the filebox!

When I was in England, Helen and I went to the public day of the migraine trust, and I picked up all this crapola. However, I couldn't fit it all to bring back home. It was very difficult for me to say, "Okay - I don't really need this!" especially for someone like me, who has just about every headache info reesource at my fingertips with my connections. I did hang onto an OUCH UK booklet explaining cluster headaches, and also a little kit on migraine for children - since I hope to work in pediatric neurology as a PNP.

Just so hard to let go of it all - some part of me must be convinced that my own cure lies in those papers...why else would I have such a death grip on them? haha...


I prefer my memory as it is: with large gaping holes where the bad or embarrassing parts should be, long stretches of ego-boosting fabrication, and a few bright, clear places to mark the really special experiences.

Greg Brown said...

Josh Harris speculated about this years ago in his appearance on Errol Morris' First Person. The episode is called "Harvesting Me," and covers Harris's attempts to catalog his entire life through installing several dozen cameras in his apartment and opening them up to web-based viewing. The project was called "We Live In Public," and ran in 2000-2001 as far as I can tell.

Harris had big ideas for the technology involved, claiming that in the future you could view your own life and your ancestors' lives to try and pin down where habits like domestic abuse originated. Brilliant stuff, but the effects the project had on his life weren't really all that positive. Very good episode of an already very good series.

Frank Hightower said...

I love it how the article is very self demonstrating "who was that guy? Ah, that's his name. I had to take time out to Google him."