Fri, Aug 17, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Lifelogging in the Internet age

From sleeping and eating to exercise and travel, technology now allows us to track and analyze every detail of our lives, but how can it help us improve them?

By Leo Hickman  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Not-for-profit organizations such as European Digital Rights and the London-based Open Rights Group are now campaigning for “digital civil rights,” including the right to data privacy and ownership.

The Open Rights Group, for example, says that while the digital age has the “capacity to bring us greater democracy, transparency and new creative and social possibilities,” it means “our freedoms are also under attack in the digital world: from governments and vested business interests.”

Bentley is more relaxed about such fears, though. He believes as long as people keep on top of the data they create, the benefits — particularly health benefits — mean lifelogging will quickly become integrated into all our lives.

“Logging the food we eat is an area that needs development, but could bring big advantages,” he says. “Image-recognition software is being worked on so it can recognize what food is being eaten. Other ideas include ‘jaw counters,’ which monitor how many times you chew your food. ‘Protein-onomics’ is the analysis of blood and urine. We will take samples and send them off to be studied with the resulting data constantly adding to our knowledge of ourselves. DNA profiles will soon be in the mix, too. Working out ways to visualize this data is the next challenge. Lots of people in the world can’t read a graph or understand correlations.”

To avoid becoming a gift to hypochondriacs and quacks, this data will need curating by healthcare professionals.

“Information is not knowledge,” Albert Einstein said.

Quite how willing general practitioners, for example, will be to get involved is unclear.

However, personal data about each of us is being created, whether we choose to add to it or not. Ignoring it means we risk not being as “efficient” as those who lap it up. In March, the scientist and author Stephen Wolfram blogged about how he had analyzed a decade’s worth of his e-mails, computer use and telephone calls. By doing so, he gained surprising — some might say trivial — insights into his habits. (For example, 7 percent of the keys he typed were backspaces.) However, it was the potential of lifelogging that excited him most.

“As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives,” he wrote. “At first it all may seem quite nerdy. But it won’t be long before it’s clear how incredibly useful it all is — and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before. And wishing they had started sooner, and hadn’t ‘lost’ their earlier years.”

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