We can remember it for you wholesale!
November 3, 2009 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Memory is not what it used to be! Using a camera to record your daily activities so you will remember what life was like years later? Try SenseCam! Does keeping a Digital Diary screw with your mind and memory?

A number of new books on the subject have just come out and discuss this further:

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything [Amazon Video]

Mediated Memories in the Digital Age

Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age
posted by mfoight (32 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
there's also Evernote for your mobile phone
posted by bhnyc at 10:19 AM on November 3, 2009


I recall someone tried to live an "augmented" life for a few years, relying on technology to make his life easier, including note-taking and remembering details. He then unplugged himself, and found that he had a hard time without the augmented memory. Personally, I don't try to recall things as hard if I know I can look them up online in the next few minutes/hours, and I've embraced the fact I don't remember names at all. I just don't try to remember names, unless it's an important person who won't be providing a business card or other reminder.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on November 3, 2009


Really excellent questions this raises. I've yet to see an SF writer deal with them in any kind of really interesting way (though I'd love to hear about any who have).

On preview, filthy light thief reminds me of what I often refer to as "[Lodurr's] Corrollary to Lafferty's Law": "Try not to rely on anything that can be turned off."

(Lafferty's Law: "Never make anything you can't un-make.")
posted by lodurr at 10:35 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Let us greatly simplify, and imagine that a life consists of 13,000 facts. One of the hypothetical biographies would record the series 11, 22, 33 . . . ; another, the series 9, 13, 17, 21 . . . ; another, the series 3, 12, 21, 30, 39. . . . A history of a man's dreams is not inconceivable; another, of the mistakes he made; another, of all the moments when he thought about the Pyramids; another, of his dealings with the night and with the dawn."
posted by past at 10:39 AM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


This would also be an argument against writing things down.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just imagine someone living 30 years with a memory-recording device strapped to them, and then the next 30 watching the whole thing over again in real time.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:07 AM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Recent research shows that reviewing a random set of photos of your day does firm up your memory of what happened. The question of whether you are worse off later without the reminders is interesting. It does seem to me that going back to normal memory after living with augmented memory for a significant time would make you feel worse off thanyou were before, whether it is true or not.

I have a terrible memory for names too, so I try extra hard to remember them. It doesn't always work, though, once in a while I get someone's name mixed up (after having gotten it right for months) and then suddenly realize that I've been calling them by the wrong name for a couple of weeks. My memory for names can be so bad I once forgot my mother's name. I'll be talking to someone while furiously trying to remember their name, and the minute they leave it pops into my head.

Because we have so many people who are only around occasionally, my company has a face board in the main office with everyone's picture and name on it. I review it constantly, so despite my bad memory, I have a reputation for knowing everyone. I also ask people about their work, and even though I've asked before, they are always good about refreshing my mind, and after a few go-rounds, I start to remember.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:16 AM on November 3, 2009


I like having tools to improve memory and observation, but as I understand it there are actually some good reasons why memory is flawed. For example, a lot of what happens to us is not ever going to be of interest e.g. most daily commutes. Still, nice to know this resource is becoming available.
posted by bearwife at 11:21 AM on November 3, 2009


Well, having been in that position of taking documentary video for research projects, and then pouring through the entire mess, the problem isn't data collection. Not that there are not problems with data collection, compared to the rapid flicker of the human eye, the digital lens captures only a small part of a scene, and far too often we had to ignore interesting stuff because it happened just outside the range of microphones. The problem is that raw data is dull, uninteresting, and fundamentally meaningless.

The big problems of qualitative research--what all these obsessive attempts to track everyday life fundamentally are--involves identifying meaningful chucks of information from an ever-increasing sea of trivia. Or alternately, crunching that trivia into abstractions that we can handle.

Human memory, because of its creative and mercurial nature, is actually an excellent model for sifting through hours of trivial to highlight the most significant moments.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:26 AM on November 3, 2009


I don't care what the video shows THE TSA STOLE MY BABY!
posted by cjorgensen at 11:34 AM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


My brother found an audio (casette) diary he made at age 14 (30 years ago). He said it was helpful toward understanding his 13 year old daughter, but he really wished he didn't know what an idiot he was at that age. And somehow hearing the voice made it 100 times creepier than a written diary.
posted by msalt at 11:54 AM on November 3, 2009


My episodic memory is dreadful. Abysmal. I also have great difficulty in remembering names, faces, and name-face combinations. I'm pretty good at locations, so I generally record a person's name and where I met them when I swap mobile numbers (their job+workplace if it's a professional thing). I store the picture off whatever social networking site they're on along with their details. My timetable is also stored digitally on my phone - if we arrange to meet in any capacity, it's also on there. Notes about my students are on a separate bit of paper, in seating order - if they swap places, they've swapped ID, which is kind of awkward, so I write a brief description.

Adrenaline helps, but I can't actually live my entire life being either scared or angry. Before I had access to mobile technology or the in Internet, when I was in high school, I did it with bits of paper or did without. Nowadays I look at social networking sites, see my picture, and have no memory of being there or doing that until I read the comments.

I would try this technology if it were cheap, full-featured, and open-source, but to be honest, I'm quite happy as my forgetful self, extreme moments of embarrassment aside. As long as I have at bare minimum a reliable pen and cheap notepad I'm pretty efficient. I reckon I lose as many mundane or bad memories as I do good ones, and I loathe being photographed. Plus, I don't have to buy as many DVDs :-)

lodurr: Mefi's own cstross includes a lot of things in Accelerando about how thinking prostheses affect the main character.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:55 AM on November 3, 2009


And then there's Gordon Bell using a SenseCam for his MyLifeBits project, recording everything 24x7x365 and posting it to the Web.

NewYorker | May 28, 2007: Remember This? -- "A project to record everything we do in life."
posted by ericb at 11:59 AM on November 3, 2009


Better link to Bell's MyLifeBits.
posted by ericb at 12:02 PM on November 3, 2009


Other similar projects: Buckminster Fuller's paper-based Dymaxion Chronofile and Sousveillance (as coined by Steve Mann).
posted by ericb at 12:06 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excellent post, mfoight, thanks.
I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Until recently memory storage has been limited.
It isn't anymore. Near infinite memory is probably changing our culture at a level that we can't measure.
But the quest for forgetting seems a little premature: I don't know any area of science that wouldn't welcome more data about the past.

KirkJobSluder is right about findability, but at the same time search engines are becoming the behemoths of our times. With date stamps and tagging anything can be stored for future use.
posted by bru at 12:11 PM on November 3, 2009


My brother found an audio (casette) diary he made at age 14 (30 years ago). He said it was helpful toward understanding his 13 year old daughter, but he really wished he didn't know what an idiot he was at that age.

I usually go through my boxes of stuff every year or two at most, but I've just finished going through all of it for the first time in about six years. Doing so brought out a real Memento moment, when I found triggers for memories that were gone and probably not coming back, some of them unpleasant or inconvenient (in terms of conflicting with some narrative I'd accepted and made peace with), and it occurred to me that, were I to throw these things out (that letter, this photograph), I might revert to my long-established memory and forget these inconvenient little details. The past could be clean if not correct.

(Yeah, I kept them)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:18 PM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Does keeping a Digital Diary screw with your mind and memory? "

No. (epony-serious)
posted by Eideteker at 12:23 PM on November 3, 2009


bru: Sure, but current search technology is pretty fragile when you go beyond text. OCR is reasonably good at the printed word. But even with text it's entirely likely to get swarmed with false positives unless you get the keyword search just right. Spooks probably have much better engines for identifying faces, voices, and spoken words, but those technologies are limited.

Date stamps are pretty much useless unless you know the date at which something happened, and in most cases, you don't. Tagging runs up against the same problems we've always had with metadata going back to folders and filenames. 1) you have to take time to tag the content in the first place, and 2) you have to future-proof your taxonomy/descriptors/keywords as you change. I've spent hours trying to figure out just which combination of tags I used on something I wrote a few years ago.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:29 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just imagine someone living 30 years with a memory-recording device strapped to them, and then the next 30 watching the whole thing over again in real time.

Isn't that what most people do with their music tastes?
posted by HTuttle at 12:44 PM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just to inject a little reality into this discussion, this device is intended for people with Alzheimers and other memory disorders, and it's been shown to help them out quite a bit.

I think cops should be required to wear things like this all the time.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I sorta mentioned this concept before, people seemed pretty much against it.
posted by exhilaration at 1:44 PM on November 3, 2009


I'm writing my dissertation on this--only my research is set in the 16 and 1700s, when people first figured out that they could keep diaries. Samuel Pepys would be proud of this post.
posted by sy at 2:15 PM on November 3, 2009


delmoi, the paranoid in me wonders how we would know that the video hadn't been tampered with.

It would be good also to see how often the video gets used now. A lot of patrol cars now have cameras to record traffic stops. What I don't know is how much of that is automatic, whether the retention is mandatory or optional, etc. I'd want it to be full time (what you said), non-optional; but of course then you've got the question of how to sift through it. And of course some clever defense attorney would think to introduce a whole 10-days of feed into evidence and require the jury to view it. Judges would deal with that relatively quickly, but it would leave an ugly publicity wake behind it.

ok, i'm getting way too far out ahead of this, clearly.
posted by lodurr at 2:18 PM on November 3, 2009


Pertinent: Frances Yates' The Art of Memory, which is about the near-ancient to mediaeval "arts of memory." John Crowley traded on Yates pretty extensively in Little, Big and in Aegypt, and this passage (though a tad dry and wikipedantic) does a lot to capture the magic of the way he invokes it:
Perhaps following the example of Metrodorus of Scepsis, vaguely described in Quintilian's Institutio oratoria, Giordano Bruno, a defrocked Dominican, used a variation of the art in which the trained memory was based in some fashion upon the zodiac. Apparently, his elaborate method was also based in part on the combinatoric concentric circles of Ramon Llull, in part upon schematic diagrams in keeping with medieval Ars Notoria traditions, in part upon groups of words and images associated with late antique Hermeticism,[13] and in part upon the classical architectural mnemonic. According to one influential interpretation, his memory system was intended to fill the mind of the practitioner with images representing all knowledge of the world, and was to be used, in a magical sense, as an avenue to reach the intelligible world beyond appearances, and thus enable one to powerfully influence events in the real world.[14] Such enthusiastic claims for the encyclopedic reach of the art of memory are a feature of the early Renaissance,[15] but the art also gave rise to better-known developments in logic and scientific method during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[16]
So the idea is that by being sufficiently systematic, and by remembering enough stuff, un-suspected knowledge could simply emerge. I remember finding that idea absolutely fascinating when I first encountered it in Little, Big many moons ago.

Of course, now it sounds like like Google. Sort of.

[Disclaimer: I haven't finished Yates' book yet. But I'm chewing on it.]
posted by lodurr at 2:28 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think cops should be required to wear things like this all the time.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM

Meet the latest weapon in the war on crime: The HelmetCam
posted by fingerbang at 2:39 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want this, but saving your day every few seconds is only half the solution.

I also want "okay, now load that day up and let me do that again, differently."
posted by rokusan at 3:29 PM on November 3, 2009


Years of IRC logging have made me inable to remember the slightest details, as I am confident I can just grep them later.

this doesn't work so well with verbal conversations, leading to a lot of 'did I REALLY say that?'

I find my memories aren't so vivid as my memories of pictures I've looked at.
posted by rubah at 9:26 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Call me depressive, but I'll be interested when they come up with something that erases the shit I want to forget.
posted by marvin at 9:27 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sensecam looks awfully familiar.
posted by tybeet at 4:08 AM on November 4, 2009


Marion: I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you've lost.
posted by timshel at 4:09 PM on November 4, 2009


Call me depressive, but I'll be interested when they come up with something that erases the shit I want to forget.

They did! Careful what you wish for, though.
posted by msalt at 12:15 PM on November 5, 2009


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