It began as one more curiosity. What would become of us if all our experiences and memories could be stored forever and recovered at will? Now, the audiovisual capture of daily experiences is a reality that receives the name of lifelogging (life log) and consists of collecting data, daily, on personal experiences through portable sensors. In other words, it is documenting our lives with devices capable of measuring and recording everything, such as geographic location, heart rate, diet, hours of sleep and leisure time.
But in a world where lifelogging begins to become popular, more and more users, sociologists and digital analysts question this practice. Is this trend a product of human curiosity with great potential for self-knowledge or is it more of an egocentric trend that allows permanent exposure to the Internet and loss of privacy?
A digital autobiography
To understand what the lifelogging it takes 49 minutes. The trend was depicted in the episode The Entire History of You (All Your History) from the Netflix series Black mirror and it was a success. The chapter narrates a world in which the majority of the population has adopted a digital device behind their ears that allows them to record everything they see and hear, storing all their memories in one place. With the use of a remote control, people can rewind any memory they want to access to relive it and can even project it on a screen to share with others. “Before I thought that I would like to have a built-in camera, so that when I blinked two or three times in a row I would start recording. I have never considered it possible to do so because, for me, the most complicated thing was where I would store all that information ”, acknowledges the sociologist and digital analyst Marta Espuny Contreras. “But now that I think about it, would I really be willing to give the recordings of my experiences to a company? No. That’s why the idea never convinced me ”, he adds.
Today, ten years after the premiere of the episode of Black mirror, this Netflix story is getting closer to becoming a reality. While the more advanced concept of lifelogging —Which aspires to record experiences in their entirety, as in the episode of Black mirror– not yet possible for technical and legal reasons, it is already partially available. Jorge Fraganillo, a researcher at the University of Barcelona, is the author of the study Lifelogging: the phenomenon of personal black boxes. “Although the possibility of recording all the events of daily life is a chimera, it is possible to create a certain record of daily life. It is precisely what many people are already doing, almost without realizing it ”, explains the researcher. In his work, Fraganillo emphasizes that lifelogging It is already more present in the applications of health self-control (physical activity, diet, vital signs), tracking and location (mobile trackers, geolocation applications), tools for the externalization of human memory (from a USB memory to the ” cloud ”), and surveillance and counter-surveillance. In addition, specific devices are already sold on the market to carry the lifelogging at another level, such as the SnapCam and YoCam, devices capable of recording everything the user sees for hours at a time and sharing the material instantly and applications that record everything, such as EXIST.
However, the quintessential device for making lifelogging it is in everyone’s palm and it is mobile. “Users, with their instant messaging and email applications, their social media posts and digital photo albums, are already creating a chronological and geographic reference, as many people keep a continuous and detailed record in real time of various aspects relevant to his own life ”, explains Fraganillo.
The best example are social networks and their applications that constitute what Fraganillo calls “a digital autobiography” of the user. The most popular ones – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, TikTok – already integrate most of these functions of the lifelogging. “If you use social networks you are doing lifelogging; although do lifelogging not necessarily your intention, “warns Ted Chaing, science fiction writer and one of the most listened to voices around this topic. “People are perfectly comfortable broadcasting their daily activities through social networks so that anyone can see them,” he explains during a talk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Now, it is possible that people’s desire for privacy prevents the lifelogging gets out of control. However, today we have much less privacy than 20 years ago, and we have little objection about this. ” And that is, perhaps, the biggest problem.
The privacy dilemma
The implications of lifelogging —Many times related to Artificial Intelligence tools, such as facial recognition— could be one of the biggest threats to users’ privacy. “Not only because there are people who do not decide to record themselves and are going to be recorded, but because we have not even stopped to think about it”, reflects Espuny. “Since the exploitation of the data derived from the lifelogging It has considerable potential, this practice has become the subject of debate and initiatives have arisen that advocate a socially responsible use of the sensitive information it generates ”, Fraganillo acknowledges. The researcher highlights that the analysis of pieces of personal information such as photos, videos, tweets or location data can offer a wrong portrait of the user, “especially if they are taken out of context.” “Digital devices can be not very transparent,” he warns.
Espuny blames “surveillance capitalism” for this. “Digital economies have led us towards what is called surveillance capitalism, where we suffer from an invasion of our privacy and the commercialization of it, since it becomes a commercial good.” The case of Cambridge Analytica, which put Facebook in the eye of the hurricane and started the debate on the privacy of user data, is the best example for what the sociologist explains.
But Antonio Tenorio, sociologist, teacher and storyteller, sees it differently. “To hold technology responsible for situations that occur in it is naive and ignores that technological advances are the result of the changes that societies have undergone or are ready to deepen,” he says. Tenorio suggests that the real problem is not in the devices that record all the time, but “in the way that socially rewards, instigates and values everyone who pours their privacy and intimacy into the pyre of self-sacrifice” . “The banality with which privacy and intimacy are given is what we should observe and analyze. I believe that we are at the dawn of the digital or hyperdigital era and to that extent we are in a transition stage that, like all others, will be self-regulating in relation to the place that privacy and intimacy should occupy ”, Tenorio predicts.
Meanwhile, the lifelogging It’s here and – motivated by the golden age of social media, the robust market for mobile phones, the fragility of human memory and the low cost of digital storage – some will continue to play archivists and cartographers of their own lives. . “After all, the lifelogging it provides that enriched self-analysis, the ability to relive one’s life with Proustian detail and the freedom to memorize less and think more creatively ”, concludes Fraganillo. But since not all that glitters is gold, the privacy debate will always be there, and in the lifelogging as well.