Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The coming world of Total Recall will be as dramatic a change in the coming generation as the digital age has been for the present generation. It will change the way we work and learn. It will unleash our creativity and improve our health. It will change our intimate relationships with loved ones, both living and dead. It will, I believe, change what it means to be human.
This book is based heavily on Gordon Bell’s experience with the MyLifeBits research project – a prototype system to digitally record, store, and organise as many aspects of Bell’s life as possible. This involved converting all paper based information (bills, receipts, certificates, photos, letters etc) to digital format and also digitally logging a range of life information on an ongoing basis (location, financial transactions, photos/video, health information, exercise details etc). The book distinguishes between the practices of life blogging (publicly broadcasting details of your life through sites like Facebook and Twitter) and life logging.
This is a fascinating book which highlights the growing importance and potential benefits of e-memories – while some of the potential applications discussed seem quite futuristic, others are immediately applicable. The downside of increased digital recording of our lives is discussed briefly, but the book pitches Total Recall as an inevitable future step, so the discussion is more about developments/systems that may be put in place to ensure the security/privacy of data (like the creation of Swiss data banks). After reading the book I am motivated to try to digitally capture/store more of my life (like trying out Google Latitutde, geo-tagging my photos, and getting back into my regular 8.36pm photo practice). I also like the idea of doing a retrospective conversion of most of our paper (and am excited by all the additional space that would result) – but honestly find the idea completely overwhelming (in terms of figuring out some kind of folder/storage system more so than the actually process of physically scanning and saving all the documents).
Even though the book was only published in 2009, there are some notable omissions from the book (that probably would be picked up in revised editions). Two that I particularly noticed were the iPad (the book pre-dates the release of the iPad and as such there is no discussion about how this device may influence how we record and recollect our e-memories) and FourSquare (notable both in terms of the growing trend in location-based services, and also the potential gameification of life blogging/logging).
The book also includes a very comprehensive references and resources section.
My notes from Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything
[Disclaimer: The notes below are rough, and may be a mixture of direct quotes, paraphrasing, and my own thoughts/ideas/reminders. They’re written here primarily for me (so they may not make much sense out of context, especially for those who haven’t read the book)].
(4) ‘The coming world of Total Recall will be as dramatic a change in the coming generation as the digital age has been for the present generation. It will change the way we work and learn. It will unleash our creativity and improve our health. It will change our intimate relationships with loved ones, both living and dead. It will, I believe, change what it means to be human.’
(4-5) Three streams of technology: recording, storage, search/analysis. More digital memories, more space to store them, and better and better technology to recollect them.
Implications for skills (particularly in work). Those that have skills in digital recording, search & analysis will have advantage over those that rely on personal memory/knowledge. Have experienced this personally.
(9) Hard part is no longer deciding what to hold on to, but how to efficiently organise, sort it, access it, and find patterns and meaning in it.
(14) While much of the technology for Total Recall is already available – pieces remain isolated and fragmented.
Inconveniences – non portable data formats, multiple passwords/profiles, short battery life…
(20) ‘Public publishing is only for what I am glad to have the world associate with me – forever!’
Life blogging v life logging
(21) ‘Through the decade of the 2010s, user-friendly life logging applications will proliferate…’
(24) ‘…psychological well-being from decluttering both my physical space and my brain’.
How will the brain change? Less need for ‘remembering’? More scope/capacity for imagination/connection/creativity?
(39) MyLifeBits – research project. Not a single application, prototype suite of applications and storage system.
(42) Associative linking – critical component of e-memory machine.
(53-54) Biological memory has three distinct systems:
- procedural (muscle memory)
- semantic (meanings, definitions, concepts – facts you know that aren’t rooted in place/time)
- episodic (encodes experiences from your past)
Semantic and episodic bio-memories can and will be extended by our e-memories.
(54) Unlike computers, brains aren’t that great at faithfully storing masses of detail. Brains are best at stories patters/meanings…
(56) E-memory will be the fact checker of those meanings, definitions and concepts in our semantic memories.
(57) ‘Total Recall will change how we think about our lives. It will also change how we feel about our lives.’
(60) Mental clutter.
(134) A Total Recall system ought to let you organise, classify or taxonomise the material you are taking in.
A good e-memory will help you arrange material for retrieval by classification, and will help you visualise your classifications and modify it as your understanding evolves.
(135) Then what do we have time for? Reflection. Total Recall will enable era of increased reflection.
(154) Four steps in progression of digital immortality:
- digitising legacy media
- supplementing one’s e-memories with new digital sources
- two-way immortality – ability to actually interact with avatar
- avatar learns and changes over time
(163-164) Data entanglement – mixing of work and personal memories.
(165-166) More self-knowledge. How much truth can you take? Successful people don’t shy away from the honest record. Peter Drucker – whenever you make a key decision or take a key action write down what you expect will happen. Nine to 12 months later, compare actual results with expectations.
(167) Adapting to being recorded. Not just recording self. Others are recording as much as you are. Google Street View.
(169) Relationships could become stilted with candid conversation being replaced by excruciatingly careful speech. Politicians are first wave of society to have their words regularly recorded and played back to them.
(176) Approach your e-memory with a plan and you will get better results. Decide which aspects of your life you want to be able to recall. Could approach by topic or by data type (first photographs, then music…)
Needs – smartphone, GPS unit (with software to retrieve GPS data), digital camera, computer (with external HDD), internet connection, scanner (OCR).
(180) Set goal of being paperless within a year. Scan paper already have. Also arrange to receive more digital born communications.
(184) Use calendar to schedule upcoming events. Also put in entries after the event so calendar is a complete record.
(187) Taking video ‘cliplets’ – little clips of 5 seconds or less.
(195) Timelines wonderful for visualising series of events.
(196) Camera. Critical – having time set correctly/adding geolocation.
(197) 3 ways to add information to help organise your e-memory.
- Good folder structure
- Useful file name
- Adding attributes to the file
(200) Google Toolbar – web history feature. Records URLs and lets you search for text on pages in your history.
(213) Total Recall will be a very private matter. Younger generation ought to eventually see their casual approach to privacy as a mistake and scale back public disclosures.
(217) Every appliance will be sensing and logging. Washing machine/dishwasher – diagnostic tool.
(219) Need for unified communication and storage (don’t need to use multiple services/devices). Number one requirement is open systems that employ standards for information exchange.
(225) Sportscasters give a real foretaste of Total Recall.
Links/products/services referenced in book – to follow up
- Google Health
- Famento.com – helps people share family stories
- Wizcom – pen scanner
- Pulse Pen – Livescribe
- Google Toolbar – web history feature
Leave a Reply