Articles about the MyLifeBits Project and Gordon Bell:
Gordon Bell has a distinguished career in the IT industry. He's also decided to catalogue his life. This brings up interesting questions as to why keep all this stuff? Is there some purpose to being able to forget some or most of it?
Bell is refining his technique to store everything about himself on one terrabyte of data. He wants to get it all on his Dell laptop. He started out motivated by Bill Gates' book and decided to scan all the paper he owned. Co-conspirator Jim Gray helped him set-up a database for searching and archival purposes, but when Jim went sailing and never came back, Bell's quest became personal. Now he captures all web sites he goes to, he wears a sensecam to capture photos whenever light or heat changes (or in timed intervals). He works for Microsoft's research arm and can leverage Microsoft's power to create technology that allows data to be easily retrievable and identifable. He doesn't see it as lifelogging because he doesn't want the information public. One article likens it to "immortality" but rather, it's more like a huge digital scrapbook or time capsule. His laptop is so valuable to him now as a repository of memories, that he doesn't carry it around with him anymore.
Through the lens of forgetting, one should ask if keeping all this data is useful. The technology is more for identifying and retrieving information more than collecting the information. Collection is still a time-consuming and cumbersome process. On top of that, for the information to be retrievable, he has to annotate all of his data. How much of the data will anyone actually access in the future? What are the benefits of the system. Who benefits from the data? He says he doesn't have a problem with persistence -- all of the data should exist in perpitude, but is this a realistic recollection of him as a person?
Dodge & Kitchin explore pervasive computing in regards to surveillance and increasingly sousveillance (capturing data about yourself). They look at the development of life-logs, sociospatial archives that document every action, every event, every conversation, and every material expression of an individual's life and the potential social, political, and ethical implications of machines that never forget. They suggest that given the new possible paradigm, forgetting needs to be incorporated into new technologies. They look to Schacter's modes of forgetting as a basis for creating an ethics of forgetting. They go over the main types of forgetting in Schacter and call for implementing Schacter's models in technological design to create a humane but still useful system. They also champion the idea of incorporating forgetting into architecture (as a kernel) instead of legislating forgetting as a blanket.
Dodge, Martin, and Rob Kitchin. 2005. 'Outlines of a world coming into existence': pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 34, no. 3:431 - 445.
Forgetting is easier to do than remembering. Empirically cultures have tried to preserve memory through devices like books, film, record, etc. However, conservation has always been expensive, thus strict limits are applied as to what to keep. New digital memory is relatively inexpensive and it allows us to store everything, regardless of significance. Also, digital data is easily reproduced and accessed bringing up issues of privacy. Because of this, Mayer-Schonberger sees a shift from discarding to preserving. Is this a good thing? No.
Three conventional responses:
- Comprehensive privacy litigation is difficult because lobby groups exert a lot of power but represent only a few, while the masses who would benefit are diffuse and disorganized;
- constitutional reinterpretation while potentially valid under the First, Fourth, and implicit "privacy" amendments (first, third, fourth, fifth, ninth, and fourteenth) is difficult to pass and would not regulate private parties only public government;
- Null response or inaction can be argued as the best approach if there is no demand for legal action, however, the null response argument is naive when considering political theory's acknowledgment of the difficulty the majority has in transforming its will into law.
Lawrence Lessig proposes a solution that is a combination of law and code, but Mayer-Schonberger finds solution too complex for this focused issue of data retention. Instead, Mayer-Schonberger proposes a simple solution of reinstating forgetting over time through
- user-defined storage timelines,
- decreasing cookie life,
- requiring companies to delete/forget data, including cell phone software, and
- limiting sensor data.
Mayer-Schonberger briefly covers the strengths and weaknesses of his plan and summarizes article in the conclusion.
Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor. "Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing." Working Paper RWP07-022, Cambridge, Mass.: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2007 Apr.