To Gordon Bell and Jimmy Gemmell it’s inevitable. They call it the Total Recall Revolution and in many ways it’s already begun. Computer enhanced personal memory. The ability to remember every moment exactly the way it was. Never forget anything. We don’t realize it but every time we Google, take a picture, share photos via Facebook, update our Twitter accounts, we are recording our lives electronically. Bell and Gemmell are researchers at Microsoft and co-authors of the book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything. They claim that soon people will be able to “conveniently and affordably” record, archive and retrieve every minute detail of their entire lives and this will eventually change what it means to be human.
How does it work?
E-memories act as a surrogate to our memories. The idea is that by storing our memories into a computer, we “free up” precious brain space to let in new thoughts and ideas. Bell and Gemmell argue that soon everybody will have a vast digital archive, much like a web based CRM that will become an extension of the brain.
For over a decade, Bell has been storing his e-memories in MyLifeBits, a system designed to store just about everything that can be captured; songs, books, notes, photos… Carrying around video equipment, an audio recorder, an arm-strap that logs his bio-metrics, and a SenseCam; (a small digital camera worn around the neck which takes photographs of surroundings every 5-30 seconds), Bell records his telephone conversations, saves restaurant receipts, makes PDF files out of every Web page he views; he has also scanned all his photos, letters and any other memorabilia. But does this really scream trend all of humankind would be inclined to follow?
Invention For Egomaniacs Seeking Immortality?
How we will be remembered, the legacies we leave behind, we all ponder it at some point and soon, if the Total Recall Revolution is really underway, we’ll be able to leave a thorough and accurate story trail behind us. But who exactly has the time, will, patience and dedication to capture and archive their every action? The obsessive compulsive’s utopia doesn’t seem cut out for everyone. However, the human quest for purpose and meaning would suggest that there is an element of wanting to be remembered and a way we’d like to shape that memory. If e-memories are like upgraded diaries, e-memories present a possibility of immortality in the stories we leave behind. Imagine being able to know and access your great grandparents’ entire history. Or how this could revolutionize the course of history all together. With e-memories, all data, notes and correspondences can be preserved and original source material can be accessed. This could have a tremendous impact on how we record history and its accuracy. On the flipside, it could be argued that because people know they are being recorded they will start acting a part rather than being their “regular” selves. But couldn’t this also be a means of diminishing crime?
Computer, what was my favorite toy growing up?
Creating such a dependent relationship with our computers is a bit of a frightful thought, especially when it comes to something as precious as our memories. The more developed SenseCams get, the more natural it will become to depend on them to record what is important to us. Conversations, heart rates, body heat, GPS traces, a legitimate fear is that this type of technology will cause us to be less dependent on our brains for accessing information. If the brain doesn’t exercise and hands over all its tasks to the computer, computers won’t be the extension of us but rather us the extension of computers. But look at what people said when the Internet first came out. Too much information for people to process would lead to total chaos. But humans get better at organizing information. And couldn’t it also be argued that remembering something is easier when we memorize it. Plugging in a memory and making it an e-memory is essentially three different ways to repeat and remember a certain moment. The processes of recording, transposing and being able to easily retrieve a memory with the help of a computer, could actually make our brains exercise in a more formulated way. The more you memorize, the more room for memory there is in your brain. That’s why actors can store and remember so many lines.
Do I Really Want To Remember EVERYTHING?
There are some obvious concerns about storing your most personal information in one easy-to-use, searchable database. Some of the firsts that come to mind are bugs in the system or the risk that it crashes and all your memories get erased. What if your memories get hacked? Stolen? Tampered? What about memories that our brain chooses to forget? Sometimes we experience unpleasant or traumatic events that the brain must edit in order to move past it and go forward.
We record events, write in diaries, take pictures of moments we don’t want to forget, blog our opinions. Still it is us selecting the moments we wish to remember and there may be a reason for that. For those who haven’t quite yet swallowed the idea of e-memories, the chances of it branching out rapidly into the mainstream aren’t likely just yet. At this stage of the technology, e-memories will be much more useful to those carrying out extensive research and maybe a handful of celebrities trying to stay ahead of the times. Nevertheless, research into e-memories will continue and it’s not waiting for anyone’s approval to go forward.