Life logging

poster for movie, MementoOk, I’ll just say it. Projects like this drive me nutty. I mean the whole idea behind LifeBits just seems overly narcissistic and as I’m sure my friend Paulina would say, who cares?! Yes, I acknowledge that it might have some medical application for folks who are losing their memory (although I prefer this way instead).

Or even the way in which Joanne and Bob Chew chose to record it, which is one of the most haunting and powerful discussions of memory and memory loss that I’ve heard in recent years. You really owe it to yourself to give it a listen. No amount of “lifelogging” would ever convey what is related here in a Story Corps booth in under 4 minutes.

Maybe I just don’t get it. But in my opinion the contrast between these two forms of memory preservation is a great example of what is ultimately important when it comes to recording personal histories. As the tag from the movie stated, “some things are best left forgotten.” Right?



  1. As far as preserving the details of life is concerned, one way I’ve gone about tracking mine is a daily diary I’ve kept (with few lapses) since 1981. The diary is not for the purpose of preserving my life after I’m gone; the purpose of the diary is to help give me perspective on my constantly evolving life. I kept the diary on paper from 1981 through about 1993, but since then, every entry is on my computer, in searchable files. Now I can go back and see what happened to me a year ago today, three years ago today, five years ago today. Believe me, this excersize certainly does a lot to keep things in perspective. It’s also come in very handy on many occassions just to look up simple things like “Is that vacuum cleaner still under warrantee? I’ll do a search on ‘new vacuum’ and find out when I bought it” or “When is Becky’s birthday again? I’ll do a search and find out when we went to Becky’s birthday party last year.”

    Another method I use of recording my life is taking photos. I used to take thousands of snapshots annually and have huge boxes full of pictures in the basement. Now I use a digital camera and have a huge file folder full of snapshots on my computer. Whenever my computer screen goes dormant, my screen saver kicks in and starts randomly rolling through these digital memories.

    I have often wondered what will happen to these items following my death.

    The paper diaries and physical photos will be found by someone or another in my basement after I am gone. I have no children and no relatives of any kind living within a thousand miles of me. Will one of my siblings travel cross country to clear out my house? Will some niece or grand-nephew come to do the job? If so, what on earth would become of these treasure troves of my life?

    And what of the digital files? Is anyone ever truly going to be interested in sorting through decades of JPG pictures? Will I ever do anything notable enough to warrant interest in reading through years worth of Microsoft Word documents describing the evolution of my life?

    So often I go to garage sales and flea markets and estate sales and thrift shops where I see huge boxes full of somebody’s family photos, or crates full of Kodachrome slides of long-ago vacations, sitting and gathering dust and waiting for a buyer. No buyers come. They end up in the landfill, just as our bodies go back to being landfill.

    Diaries that are more than a century old, or diaries kept by notable people, or diaries that describe a particularly interesting event, are of infinite value to museums, collectors, and researchers. But diaries of a normal sort of person who recorded what book she read today, and where she went for a walk, and what came in the mail, and what cute thing the cat did today, and what she had for dinner — of what value could this be to anyone else but her?

    I expect that some estate sale company will be hired to clear out the remnants of my life after I am gone. My computer containing my lifelong photos and diaries will end up being sold to some computer geek who will erase the hard drive and reformat the computer. The boxes of snapshots will go to the dump. Maybe some remnant of my family will received a crate full of my diary notebooks, detailing what happened to me from the time I was 21 to the time I was 33.

    And in a way, this is sad. Maybe I should have had kids so at least one of them would be forced to store this stuff in their attic or basement or garage until they got old and died.

    Or maybe by the time I die, I can download all my photos and diary entries onto a memorial thumbdrive and have it attached to my memorial headstone so people could plug into my life and read the daily entries and see the accompanying photos. That way, my friends could flip through the pictures and remember the picnics and camping trips and birthday parties we shared together. And they could search my diary to find out what I REALLY thought of them. (Hey, I’m dead, what do I care? Do we keep any secrets after we die?)

    Now, that would be pretty cool.

    But only until technology made the thumbdrive format obsolete.

    Which would probably take about three years.

  2. I really like that last idea. Because you’re right to be practical about the whole thing. I’ve been to flea markets where boxes of memories sit parked in the dust and have even flipped through them, staring at the strange faces and family poses looking for some artistic inspiration but never knowing the story behind them. And it is in a way sad, the passing of time so important to us is never so important to anyone else. Even our families. The folks had many many photos of people I never knew or met taken in places I’d never been. They all went in the trash when we cleared out the house. I felt a twinge of guilt but I had my own past to carry around with me and it was heavy enough. But to link it to your corpus to your corpse. Heh, sorry for the pun but I sure would love to read what you thought about me and the people we knew. It would make visiting your memorial a very personal event.

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