Before I discuss Gordon Bell's book, Your Life, Uploaded, I have to share a funny and relevant anecdote. The beginning of the book seemed familiar to me. I looked for it in my Goodreads account and saw that I had read another book by the same author a year and a half ago. When I got to the halfway point, I had a strong suspicion that I was in fact reading the identical book. I searched on Amazon and quickly saw that it was formerly published as Total Recall. This experience reinforces Bell's thesis, which is that we would benefit from keeping digital records of all aspects of our lives.
The funny thing is that I got more out of the book on the second pass. The first time I read it, I thought the idea of trying to record everything was silly. We'd spend as much time tagging and editing it as we did living it! I thought the desire to interact with simulacra of our past selves was a bit creepy. I said that I'd rather use my data to shape my future. I know all this because I wrote a brief review for myself, thus completely disproving my own point not even two years later. I think differently about the idea of "Total Recall" now, not just because I saw part of the Schwarzenegger movie recently after a 20-year gap, but because I've now digitized more of my own life.
The author wrote this book at age seventy. He has a lifelong history of heart disease and heart surgery. His perspective includes the necessity of tracking his health and fitness data, the usefulness of his work data in his professional life, his desire to leave a family legacy, and his interest in his heritage. He expresses the wistful thought of wishing he knew more about his great-grandfather's life. Any one of these motivations is worthwhile for preserving at least certain things.
Metrics helped me with my health issues, just like they helped Bell with his. He realized after tracking his heart data that he had to give up ice cream and cheese. I realized that there was a connection between my late-night snacking and my episodes of night terrors. I also learned that there were at least a half-dozen patterns involved in my body weight, and that figuring out what they were enabled me to reach my goal weight. Along with this, I've said goodbye to migraines, fibromyalgia, and thyroid disease. Information is power. I doubt I could have figured any of this stuff out without careful records. One day it will all be automatically tracked and analyzed by our phones.
This year, I've been scanning my paper files. This includes many years of writing notebooks, as well as the files involved in household bureaucracy. While I worked on this, I also worked on consolidating my digital files and photos. The more I do, the more I realize can be done. It's incredibly boring work, but it's also satisfying. I'm finding real peace of mind in knowing that I now have multiple backups of what used to be vulnerable, irreplaceable papers. Almost as good, I can access them from my phone! I've been referring to my phone as my spare brain for over four years now. The longer I carry it, the more I digitize, the more useful it becomes. I don't have any real security concerns over whether someone might somehow hack pages from my high school poetry notebook. This stuff isn't really important to anyone but me.
I have already had a life-logging moment that is pretty telling. I had a long-term long-distance friend, and almost all of our communication was over email, text messages, or PMs. We got into a quarrel, and I did a quick search and brought up some earlier messages. My "friend" called me crazy for doing this and denied everything, even though we both had access to the same chat log, (probably because I was in the right), and we're not friends anymore. The future is going to be very different in terms of sibling rivalries and divorce, not to mention professional and social relationships.
Bell gives us a vision of a future when we can look back on all our most important moments. He gives the example of another life-logging pioneer whose hallway camera captured his son's first steps. Another man who wore a camera around his neck for years has a picture of the first time he ever saw his current girlfriend. Many sci-fi scenarios have been written around this kind of technology. It makes me think, though. Would I really want to know how very much of my life has been spent in reading or staring at a screen? What would I change if I knew my descendants would be watching?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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