Photographic memory made easy

Lifelogging is awesome.

Lifelogging is nothing more than the automatic capture and retention of what happens in one's life. This can be accomplished by wearing body cameras to automatically shoot pictures, using sensors to capture biometric data to monitor your location, activity and physical state, or saving every communication you send or receive.

The purpose of lifelogging with photos is, quite literally, to use technology to give ourselves a photographic memory. The pictures are prosthetic memory. We're outsourcing part of the job of remembering to cameras and computer storage devices. We're massively upgrading our capacity to remember our own lives and experiences and correcting for the human flaw of false memory.

Naysayers have worried that the privacy of the people captured by lifelogging cameras may be violated. But I believe we each have the right to remember our own experiences.

I've written about lifelogging in this space twice. Six years ago, I introduced the concept to readers. In 2009, it was a bizarre, fringe idea associated with MIT researchers and, most especially, Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell (who reportedly wears two auto-shooting cameras around his neck every day).

Then, almost three years ago, I wrote that the future had arrived. Several consumer products emerged that enabled anyone to do a version of Gordon Bell's experiment by wearing a lifelogging camera. I said in 2013 that lifelogging had become "real" now that anyone could do it. It was "real," but uncommon.

Today I'm back to proclaim that lifelogging has become something of a banality. It's a common practice -- either you or people you know are doing it every day.

For most of us, taking and posting pictures -- including selfies, food photos, pictures of kids and family-and-friend group shots -- is the main thing we do with phones.

The behavior of both smartphone cameras and smartphone users has rapidly evolved into a lifelogging-like behavioral practice. My iPhone 6S Plus takes 10 photos a second. It has never been easier to take way too many pictures.

Meanwhile, many of us have developed the habit or impulse of snapping a picture of every noteworthy thing we see almost as second nature -- and everyone around us seems OK with that now. I take pictures of just about everything I eat. I take pictures of my hotel room numbers and parking-garage space numbers because it's easier than making an effort to remember.

We've all learned the easiest photography trick: You'll get better pictures by taking more of them and cherry-picking the best.

The result is that (at least in my case) I probably take 100 pictures for every picture I post, and I probably post too many.

Anyone looking at the pictures I post might think: Wow, Mike is a really good photographer.

Anyone looking at the pictures I don't post might think: Wow, Mike is a really horrible photographer.

Both my good and horrible pictures are hoovered up by Google Photos. And guess what My Google Photos is a lifelog. Good or bad, my photos remind me of events and experiences I otherwise would have forgotten.

We all have some version of this. As long as we have access to photos, whether published or not, we have a photo lifelog.

Meanwhile, as we move to the cloud with our email, documents and other content, more of our communication and word memories are retained, because the cloud often does a better job of not losing that stuff than we did on our own.

Many us (we know who we are) constantly take selfies, photograph our food, and automatically report banal events like airport arrivals and random thoughts on our social feeds.

Personally, I record just about every notable idea or article I come across on Twitter and pour my heart out (and promote my work) on Google+. I register most family-related events on Facebook.

My Automatic car adapter keeps a running record of where I drive, how much I spend on gas, how many times I "hard brake," drive over 70 mph, and "hard accel."

My "Moves" app tracks every place I go and how long I stay there, as well as how many steps I take, how long I walk or run and more.

Google also keeps a record of everywhere I go, every word I say on email and Google+, every document I write on Google Docs, every idea I jot down in Google Keep, and every search I conduct with Google Search.

An Apple Watch app called HeartWatch logs every heartbeat.

All this together is the stuff of a lifelog more detailed than anyone imagined. In fact, it's too detailed for a lifelog.

Most active technology users (like me) are already lifelogging. But we're doing it wrong. Here are the three steps to doing it really well.

Let's think clearly about this.

First, lifelogging is super valuable. In my family, we have vivid, fond memories of the moments we shared that were photographed. The unphotographed moments are mostly forgotten. Pictures matter. Memory matters. We're incredibly fortunate to live in a world where lifelogging is easy.

Second, we're already lifelogging. Incredible amounts of lifelogging data is already being harvested through our obsessive picture-taking and social-posting, and through our use of cloud computing and wearables and other sensor-equipped devices.

Third, only the photos really matter. All that sensor-based data is worthless for remembering one's own life and experiences. They just get in the way -- too much information. Pictures are what matter for jogging memory.

And fourth, when it comes to the photo-based lifelogging we're already doing -- well, we're doing it wrong. We capture only the photos that we deliberately decide to capture, missing both the surprising and the mundane. Our lifelogging photo memories are full of too many gaps and holes.

You can buy any of a dozen or so wearable cameras for lifelogging. But the new Narrative Clip 2 is the one I recommend. It's tiny -- smaller than a smartwatch without the band -- and weighs next to nothing (19 grams). It's unobtrusive without being a sleazy "spy camera."

The Narrative Clip started out as the Memoto Lifelogging Camera. Three Swedish entrepreneurs funded the company on Kickstarter in late 2012, reaching their goal after only five hours and shipping product at scale a couple of years later.

The original product was impressive for a crowd-funded 1.0 release. But the new version, which shipped last month, is the one you really want because it's cheaper, more powerful and easier to use.

In fact, it couldn't be easier to use. Just clip it on yourself (or your dog, or whatever). Then charge it every day. By simply being plugged in to charge, the Clip uploads and offloads the pictures from the device to the cloud, where you can delete, tag or share photos at your leisure.

The $199 Narrative Clip 2 has a better camera: An 8-megapixel model that shoots 1080p video at 30 frames per second using a wider-angle (86-degree) lens. It has built-in GPS and its 8GB of built-in storage holds 4,000 pictures. And Wi-Fi auto-downloads the pictures from the clip to your phone when you plug in the device to charge it. It has no buttons, but a double-tap takes a picture or video instantly. (You set the options in the app.) It comes in black, white or red and with multiple clips for different attachment options.

The options include setting an automatic picture-taking interval of every 10, 15, 30, 45, 60 or 120 seconds.

The cloud storage comes with 10GB free, and the smart software separates your pictures into "Moments." Narrative uses algorithms to choose your best photos and then highlights them on a Narrative-specific social network called Explore. You can also share the pictures on any social network. (By default, all pictures are kept private until you take action to share.)

The Narrative also has a time-lapse mode, and it's automatic. When the Narrative Clip is sitting still, the software just creates a time-lapse from the pictures. (This is great, because I often want to take time-lapse shots for hours, but can't spare my phone for that long.)

Finally, embrace Google Photos. Choose the option for free, unlimited photos. (The price is that Google will compress your pictures to make them smaller. But Google's technology is amazing, so this is a good option.)

Install the Google Photos app on your phone, then choose the option in settings to "Back up & Sync," which will take all the photos stored on your phone and automatically upload them to Google Photos.

Then, on an ongoing basis, simply use the Narrative app to download every Narrative photo that clearly shows anything that you saw, experienced or did.

While you can continue using Narrative's Explore to share with the Narrative community, continue to grab pictures taken by Narrative Clip to your favorite social networks, and continue taking pictures with your phone and sharing them as you've done before, you will now have a much more complete lifelog in Google Photos (which has amazing search and navigation features).

So there you have it: My three-part, six-year coverage of lifelogging. Lifelogging was research. Then it was a product. Now it's something you're already doing.

So do it well, and get the most you can from it.

Combining the Narrative Clip 2 and Google Photos gives you the photographic memory of a true lifelog.


Mike Elgan

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