Saturday, November 11, 2006

Flogging Gordon Bell's Memory


I forget where and when I've heard his name before, but when I got to the airport and picked up something to read on the plane, my thalamus filtered down onto Fast Company's cover article (What If You Never Forgot Anything? [use acces code FCNOVENG]) on Microsoft's Gordon Bell, ringing a bell in my head.

The bell ringing was attached to other dimly recalled bits -- Xanadu (or something like that... [ed:it's Memex]), a guy from the 1950's (what is his name [ed:Vannevar Bush]? I wish BWI had free internet access so I could google it), and past articles I've read about neurocomputer interfaces). The article is about this brilliant Microsoft researcher who has spent the last 7 years recording every single interaction he has. Conversations, phone calls, emails, faxes, paper documents... you name it. He accumulates an average or over a megabyte per hour, a gigabyte per month. He's obviously not keeping any video (but he does snap a photo every 60 seconds).

Why? It's an experiment in computer-assisted human memory, or maybe call it "memory augmentation". It's a log of your life, or a lifelog. Editor Mark Vamos would miss the ability to forget those memories which evoke embarrassment or regret, but the delete key (or hard drive failure) could take care of that.

Okay... it came back to me as I read the article. I've been to his website before -- MyLifeBits -- when I saw something about this a few years ago. I can see the utility of something like this.

Well, the challenge with this sort of thing (which, I must say, is pretty cool) is not in doing it. It lies in the ability to search the info... searching text (easy), audio (harder), and images (harder still) ... while also being about to easily access and efficiently use associated data and metadata.

If you want to start your own MyLifeBits experiment, writer Clive Thompson includes a 7-item shopping list [use acces code FCNOVENG]

So, I'm thinking about the impact this would have on Psychiatry. Now I'm putting myself in the patient's place. Recorders blaring, I could easily review my therapy session and get more bang for my emotional buck. If my therapist flogged too (flog=lifelog... I'm still on the plane so I cannot google "flog", but I'm sure that I can't be the first to coin this term), I could tap into her system and see my reactions from her perspective, maybe in a picture-in-picture sorta deal.

Some quotes...

"Frank Nack: 'I'm a big fan of forgetting. I don't want to be reminded of everything I said.' Forgetting ... is key to cultural concepts like forgiveness and nostalgia."

"...knowing that everything is being logged might actually turn us into different people. We might be less flamboyant, less funny, less willing to say risky but potentially useful things..."

"If you lose your keys, you can scroll back and figure out where you put 'em."

"But the real goal is to 'discover things that even you didn't know that you knew.' "

"In spring 2004, Gemmel lost a chunk of his memory... [His] hard drive crashed, and he hadn't backed up in four months. When he got his MyLifeBits back up and running, the hole that had been punched in his memories was palpable, even painful."

The article also reviews experimental software which mines the data in Gordon's LifeBits. It associates unexpected ideas based on past memories, recalls long-forgotten bits at just the right time, and creates new information, connections, and ideas buried in your flogs.

Like a good therapist.

This could put quite a few therapists out of business. But it would also open up a whole new area of psychotherapy -- lifelog-assisted psychotherapy ("flog therapy"?). This could only develop after folks have flogged quite a bit of their life, I would think. So the therapist would become a sort of guide, teaching folks new, psychodynamically-informed methods of mining their flogs and tapping into their "unconscious."

Well, I guess I've gone out on a limb here. But probably not much further than I did in Reality Therapy Vlog.

The flight attendant is making us put our portable electronic devices away and place our tray tables in their upright, locked, position. If I had my flogging equipment, I'd show you all her picture (looks kinda like Bjork, very cute) and you could hear her admonish the guy in front of me who was refusing to turn off his iPod. Alas, it will all be a dim memory in a few weeks. Gotta go.

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