When I was in college, I started archiving all the messages on my answering machine. Instead of taping over them, I saved the mini-cassettes and wrote detailed logs of each call on each tape. I did this for about two years. I still have pages and pages that list the date and time of every voicemail, the name of the caller, and a quick summary of the content.
This isn’t normal behavior. I know this. But I thought that someday, listening back to old, mundane answering machine messages would give me a better snapshot of my college life than a photo album or diary. And I was right. Ten years later, hearing the voices of family and friends – some long forgotten, some dead, all much younger – is as close as I’ll come to getting into a time machine and visiting myself as a young man.
If that seems weird to you, go talk to Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell. Compared to them, my exercise in obsessive documentation barely even registers. The two Microsoft researchers have spent years scanning, digitizing and categorizing every part of their lives, no matter how insignificant. And according to their new book, eventually we’ll all do this. Even you.
The book is called Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution will Change Everything. According to Bell and Gemmell, most of us will someday wear little tracking devices and cameras everywhere we go to record our every move. The information they capture will be tagged, uploaded, and stored online. Years later we’ll be able to instantly recall everything we did on any given day: Where we went, what we bought, who we saw, and what we said.
Bell and Gemmell say we’re already doing, this to a certain extent. The obvious examples are Facebook and Twitter, where we constantly update the minutia of our days. Our GPS devices log where we’ve been and how we got there. Joggers carry tiny computers that log their stats. Dieters can link their bathrooms scales to their computers to keep track of their weight. And etc.
According to Bell and Gemmell, the e-memory revolution is inevitable, unless our society changes course dramatically. Obviously, this scenario raises huge privacy concerns, if you believe it. And I don’t know if I do. But it’s hard to believe we won’t at least continue to move in that general direction.
You can hear Jim Gemmell talk about this with Virginia Prescott on Word of Mouth on New Hampshire Public Radio this Monday (9/21) around 12:30pm Eastern time. Later that day, he’ll join Ross Reynolds on KUOW’s The Conversation in Seattle. That interview airs around 12:30pm Pacific. I’ll post links to the audio when they’re available.
UPDATE: Here are those links I promised:
The Conversation (KUOW): “This is Your Life in Total Recall”
Word of Mouth (NHPR): “The E-Memory Revolution”