Total Recall and E-Memory

We have been benefitting from improved memory given by technology throughout history —the book is an obvious example of this— and have just entered an exciting new wave of memory enhancement that will enrich our lives and the lives of every generation to come. E-memory is coming of age and in its wake we’ll have freedom and ability that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Imagine a world where we can retain and recall any information or event with ease for the rest of our lives. It’s here, today.

What if you could remember everything? Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell draw on their experience from the MyLifeBits project at Microsoft Research to explain the benefits to come from an earth-shaking and inevitable increase in electronic memories. In 1998 they began using Bell, a luminary in the computer world, as a test case, attempting to digitally record as much of his life as possible. Photos, letters, and memorabilia were scanned. Everything he did on his computer was captured. He wore an automatic camera, an arm-strap that logged his bio-metrics, and began recording telephone calls. This experiment, and the system they created to support it, put them at the center of a movement studying the creation and enjoyment of e-memories.
Total Recall provides a glimpse of the near future. Imagine heart monitors woven into your clothes and tiny wearable audio and visual recorders automatically capturing what you see and hear. Imagine being able to summon up the e-memories of your great grandfather and his avatar giving you advice about whether or not to go to college, accept that job offer, or get married. The range of potential insights is truly awesome. But Bell and Gemmell also show how you can begin to take better advantage of this new technology right now. From how to navigate the serious question of privacy and serious problem of application compatibility to what kind of startups Bell is willing to invest in and which scanner he prefers, this is a book about a turning point in human knowledge as well as an immediate practical guide. ~”About Total Recall

We are on the cusp of an era in which, if you choose, you can create e-memories of everything, forget nothing, and keep them in your own personal archive. You can have what we refer to as Total Recall. Souvenirs and mementos will belong to another era. More and more is being recorded about each one of us than ever before, and it is bound increasingly to include reading habits, health, location, and computer usage. Archivists, who are already beginning to deal with digital curation, will have to grapple less with physical objects and more with the potential analysis and distribution of the information those objects represent. And library patrons will be a new breed, “a digital person,” with their own personal digital libraries of everything they’ve ever read, seen, and heard. ~“The E-Memory Revolution”

Jim Gemmell and Gordon Bell, two highly respected researchers at Microsoft, released Total Recall in September and have inspired an increasing interest in e-memory. Their work promotes technology as a means to enhance human memory by freeing it from tedious work and enhancing it dispite our physical limitations. They offer an exciting, yet practical, roadmap of our future relationship with our memories.

E-memory —also known as lifelogging— is the digital storage of all kinds of data about our lives, from the intimate to the abstract, and “our magical new ability to find the information we want in the mountain of data that is our past”. Beyond this will be the ability to have computers analyze our data and reveal ways we can improve our lives. Imagine being able to correlate dietary changes and better performance at work or a new hobby and better health. The insights we will be able to gain about our unique life patterns will be endless and may well reshape society for the better.

The heart of our book (all the middle chapters) is about the impact of Total Recall on life. Total Recall will aid human memory, making accurate recall the norm rather than the exception. It will improve health by making it quantitative and data-driven. It will make us more productive at work, in learning, and in our hobbies. It will enable customized education and change what you aim to keep in your bio-memory. It will provide more enjoyment of our memories and allow us to pass on more to posterity. ~Total Recall FAQ

It is becoming increasingly easy and affordable to record information about our lives: Bell has worn the SenseCam for years, having photos snapped for him throughout his day; Fitbit monitors activity level and quality of sleep; GPS cameras take photos and tag them with location and time information; sites like Daytum allow for easy manual tracking and visualization of life data; we already record our e-mails with services like Gmail; track our social life with Facebook and IM chat logs; and groups like The Quantified Self are creating new avenues of exploring lifelogging and e-memories. What is most exciting is that projects such as MyLifeBits are underway to make it easy for each of us to record, manage and use all this information. We are in the early years of a very exciting change in the way we relate to memory, but already it is shaping us.

We are being given the opportunity to retain more about our lives than ever before, and not just for ourselves. We will be able to leave wonderful records for generations to come that will allow all we have learned, sensed and done to be better preserved and re-experiened. One example Bell and Gemmell point out is the use of avatars. Imagine leaving such a detailed record of our lives that we can leave interactive guides for our grandchildren, with all the wisdom, warmth and uniqueness we can record. E-memories may be the seeds of this sort of invaluable breakthrough.

For more about e-memory, I can’t recommend Total Recall too highly. Aside from the book, there is a great Total Recall blog by Bell and Gemmell. There is a lot more to be said about this fantastic change and I’ll be writing more about it in the coming months.

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