Life Bits

At the heart of writing is the desire to leave something behind, and the fear of impermanent technology deters talented writers from taking up hypertext. Some developers, however, are using new technology as the basis for sharing history with future generations, and a new research project at Microsoft offers a glimpse into a quest for permanence which might border on obsessive.

The MyLifeBits project records photos and video, archives IM conversations and web history—even preferred TV programs, and allows the user to annotate these bits with voice and text. Much of the value of MyLifeBits relies on the SenseCam, which allows the user to experience the moment without the interruption afforded by most cameras:

There is a strong demand for capture of life experiences, whether in photos, videos, or written accounts. However, few people want to miss the experience in order to be the camera operator. Furthermore, many people who have stuck with photography, and especially digital photography, have ended up feeling overwhelmed by their large collection of photos, and only get enjoyment from a chosen few that are selected for albums. The SenseCam allows photos to be captured automatically using sensors to trigger picture-taking. Here we show SenseCam data that has been imported into MyLifeBits. The sensor readings are plotted and corresponding photos can be displayed.

The idea behind the project is to capture a lifetime of experience into a neat, searchable package. Apparently we’d rather bore our great-great-grandchildren with the details of our most visited social-network pages and our evenings spent watching Jeopardy than leave them complex works of art to serve as glimpses into our deepest emotions.

There’s certainly something to be said for mystery.