Next #geowebchat: The Geography of Lifelogging or Dear Diary on Steroids, guest host: @re_sieber, Feb 18, 2014, 12pm PST

[Guest post by Renee Sieber]

What is lifelogging? You capture your personal data with computer hardware. More recently, this personal data also may be captured via services or apps and are maintained in the cloud. Unlike blogging, the capture is generally passive, like sleep patterns (e.g., Sleepbot) or travel habits (e.g., with Google Glass), although it can include mining from emails or online documents (or computer time–Rescue Time tracks the time you spend on your computer–see

To this point, Sellen and Whittaker (2010, 72, via

“distinguish between lifelogging and other more deliberate activities involving the capture of personal data (such as digital photography and blogging) that involve the effortful selective capture and display of digital materials for a particular audience. In contrast, lifelogging seeks to be effortless and all-encompassing in terms of data capture.”

What technologies are involved or envisioned? Lifelogging can possibly be embedded in any number of devices (e.g., toothbrushes, shoes, shirt, toilets, fishing reels and other non-track sports equipment). It can be dedicated hardware like Fitbit or narrative clip. The most obvious hardware is your cellphone, which can track location or time; it can photograph or video your life. It can even monitor your battery usage. The device of the moment is Google Glass, which can capture searches, conversations, documents, and visual images. Software or apps can include Instagram (e.g., your meals), Google Docs, or Foursquare.

What are the goals of lifelogging? Sellen and Whitalker mention five:

  • recollecting (e.g., reliving the experience, perhaps to accommodate a memory impairment)
  • reminiscing (similar to the nostalgia of “home movies”)
  • retrieving
  • reflecting (looking at archived data from different perspectives like past behaviour patterns)
  • remembering what needs to be/should be done

I’d add a few more:

  • improving (e.g., language skills, driving, running, weight, in home energy usage)
  • obsessing with the minute to minute personal observation (narcissism) — the quantified self movement
  • digital hoarding
  • sharing your tracks (also called life caching). There are several possible motivations for this:
    • a deep drive to express oneself
    • performing (a kind of digital acting broadcast to an audience, e.g., via instagram)
    • guilt and shaming (e.g., what women aren’t supposed to be eating or where they shouldn’t be going, cf. Dobson and Fisher’s (2003) concept of geoslavery,
    • altruism (with patientslikeme, cure together, sharing tracked personal medical information to improve collective understanding of medication conditions)
    • keeping in touch (but should you share all these details, indulgences, intimacy with your loved ones?)
    • getting money (maybe you’re a patient 0 of some type? Maybe you’re an Olympic athlete whose patterns others seek to emulate)
    • learning from others (e.g., their logged data such as successful romance patterns)

Here are questions we can cover in the twitter chat:

1. How and why are you logging your life? How deliberate is your lifelogging? Do you need to wear the device or take the photo? Is there iLifelogging (where the i stands for involuntary)?

Consider that lifelogging could cover (depending on what you read):

  • email, chats, documents, credit cards, websites visited
  • archives (photos, book lists, e.g., in librarything)
  • your own shopping patterns (Amazon Prime)
  • ambient tracking (on or off your person): home temperature, cellphone battery usage, traffic congestion (from your in car navigation), door openings (office, refrigerator); travel patterns (e.g., from your own Oyster card)
  • biometric tracking (your heart rate)

Does the technology choice matter in expressing yourself?

2. Where’s the geography in all of this?

Lifelogging appears to be predominantly a temporal activity, as opposed to a geographic activity. Via lifelogging we have a timeline, when we can not only look backwards but also forward through time in a kind of predictive modeling. We can apply this also to place (e.g., organize and archive activities by place; examine the different things I did at the same place; examine the seasonality of a place in terms of activities; create a shortest path analyses through space and time). See We could use spatial techniques to conduct a social network analysis or a self organizing map of lifelogging.

3. What is the future of lifelogging? What are its implications?

The first possible future (present?) is a complete loss of privacy: the surveilled and profiled life. The sf book Light of Other Days (Baxter and Clarke) speculate about a life without privacy and the outrageous behaviour provoked by that loss. If your life is completely open; what do you have to lose in terms of your behaviour (I think Baxter and Clarke, being British, were thinking of ASBOs)? Maybe privacy shouldn’t be our primary concern. Like oversharing on social networking sites, this could be a generational issue that only non-lifelogging natives (i.e., old fogeys) worry about. Conversely, Steve Mann (the father of wearable computers) talks of sousveillance, the ability to counter surveillance with a watching of our own. If we’re to lose privacy then lifelogging could restore control of our patterns to us.

If we engage in a near total capture of our lives then we’d need the ability to forget or to blank out places we don’t want recorded (e.g., placeavoid). Unfortunately, the ability to avoid could become the new place discriminator. Our activities determine the “right and wrong” places to go. By crowdsourcing, we produce the new redlining (i.e., the red line around this neighbourhood represents a no go zone). This is more insidious than our tweets and facebook posts. We may express more liberal attitudes regarding place; our actual behaviour tells a more conservative story.

In the cloud, you are the consumer (or in the case of lifelogging, the tracker). But you are also the product. Lifelogging offers new opportunities for data mining and valuation of a new source of big data. A totally captured life is a monetizable life. If so then what part of your life is not monetized? Perhaps there are benefits to the total capture lifeloggers, those with the luxury of time and money to log. Consider perks that are available to those with high KLOUT and KRED scores. These benefits would be unavailable to those with reduced resources (unless maybe they’d be willing to lease their lives for lifelogging).

More benignly, Web 2.0 allows you to managing multiple and possibly conflicting roles, relationships, and identities in life. You can be performative rather than real. Indeed your performance may be more authentic than your day-to-day mundane activities. It could be expressed in strategic tracking, for example turning on the trackers when you’re visiting an exciting place but not when you’re denting the couch cushions.

But lifelogging, especially total capture, can interject real life measures. For instance, you may claim membership in an elite class of long distance runners but your heart rate may tell a different story. We’re all allowed a certain level of exaggeration in our lives. Certainly our avatars in MMORPGs suggest outsized identities. But for some segments of society (the closeted gay, the disabled), the reveal of the real could be devastating.

Lastly, if lifelogging allows us to capture “real” memories then why can’t we acquire false memories? Philip K Dick imagined this in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, which was later made into the film, Total Recall. We don’t have the technology yet to make memory capture and recall a complete cyborg activity but we could imagine a time in which our past is augmented with a juiced up version of our boring life.

4. What happens if your digital diary is damaged?

What happens to you when a part of the cloud goes down; an app goes bankrupt; a device is no longer upwardly compatible; or the service denies you access? Your memory and the patterns of your life can no longer be totally recalled.


As always, #geowebchat will be held on Twitter for one hour, starting at 12pm PST, 3pm EST, 8pm GMT, on Tuesday February 18, 2014. We look forward to chatting with you!

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