Total Recall

I just finished reading a thought-provoking book entitled Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell, fellow researchers at Microsoft. I first became acquainted with Gordon Bell several years ago when I heard about his project called MyLifeBits, in which he digitizes his entire life.

He writes about how he embarked on his journey in 1998 when a friend asked him to digitize the books he had written and once Bell saw the benefits of going paperless he committed to it, scanning articles, letters, pictures, receipts, and all the other detritus of life. One year later, the task became so overwhelming that he had to hire an assistant to help with the scanning.

Bell stresses the difference between the private digitization that he does, which he calls lifelogging, and the public practice of today’s Twitterers, which he calls life blogging. One of the special devices he employs to help him capture the events of his life is called a SenseCam, which snaps intermittent pictures throughout his daily comings and goings.

As Bell states, three technologies are converging to make the world of total recall a reality: ubiquitous digital recording and sensing devices, relatively inexpensive storage space, and expansive search and analysis capabilities. The tools he prescribes for digitizing life include a smartphone, a GPS unit, a digital camera, a personal computer, an Internet connection, and a scanner.

Regarding the payoff of total recall, Bell suggests: “I got started in this by wanting to get rid of all the paper in my life. Then I wanted better recall; then a better story to leave to my grandchildren. Soon I became aware of potential benefits for my health, my studies, and even a sense of psychological well-being from decluttering both my physical space and my brain.”