New digital technologies record, track, measure and share everything from heartbeats to heartbreaks.
Lifelogging uses modern digital technologies to record, track, measure and share everything from heartbeats to heartbreaks. An exhibition at Science Gallery Dublin uses science, art and technology to explore the ethics, consequences and potential future uses of lifelogging.
The motivation for my recent Dublin visit was to attend the Lifelogging exhibition at Science Gallery. Billed as an exploration of “new ways to track everything from heartbeats to heartbreak”, this interactive exhibition presents a variety of modern technological innovations — and potential future innovations — that allow us to track, measure and analyse any aspect of daily life.
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Lifelogging is not a new phenomenon — humans have been recording and sharing stories about ourselves and our lives, about our histories, societies and belief systems since long before we started drawing on stone walls and carving our names into trees. But rapid and sweeping technological advances are changing how we do this by allowing us to digitally record staggeringly huge amounts of data about every aspect of our lives, whether we are awake or asleep. These advances inspired Science Gallery to design an exhibition using science, art and technology to explore how lifelogging technologies influence individuals today and where society might be headed in the future as a result.
Video courtesy of Science Gallery Dublin.
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In this exhibition, we come face-to-face with a whimsical (yet stalker-ish) device that reports exactly what Justin Bieber is doing at the precise moment when the subscriber-of-the-future pushes its button (not so very different from modern tabloids?); we can study annual reports (with a striking resemblance to those published by publicly-owned corporations) containing a variety of graphics that show a particular individual’s activities during that year; and we interact with a number of quirky gadgets, such as a tea service that transduces basic physiological data into movement or sound.
Video courtesy of Science Gallery Dublin.
Some of my favourite items included the tombstone that features the decreased’s lifelogging stats “final score” (pictured at top) and the smartphone app that automatically (and surreptitiously) removes burdensome people from your contact list when it senses your stress levels shooting up as you talk with them.
Although lifelogging apps, cameras, smartbands and other wearable technologies are amongst the newest fashion statements, lifelogging technologies raise a variety of interesting yet troubling dilemmas. For example, at the societal level, we must confront the pressing issues of privacy, identity theft, law enforcement, politics and governance. We must decide whether anything can ever be truly forgotten in this modern age: do individuals in fact have the right to be forgotten? Under what circumstances? What might this act of digital “forgetting” look like — a page explaining that this person (or his actions) has been “forgotten” or might it simply call up a 404 error page? How might such “forgetting” change history and newspapering, science, art, and even storytelling and memories?
Lifelogging could lead to some positive social outcomes: it might force us to finally confront ongoing crises such as global warming, poverty, and socioeconomic inequality. On the other hand, lifelogging may instead lead us to focus all our energies on dealing with personal problems that can be tracked by apps at the expense of those larger or more complex issues that cannot.
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It is worth asking what individuals hope to learn from all this self-analysis (or navel-gazing, as some people would describe it). Whilst lifelogging has revealed important health information to certain individuals, can the average person learn anything useful from recording trivial data such as precisely how many cups of coffee he or she consumed daily, or whether physical activity patterns are affected by local wind speeds? It’s also worth considering whether simply the act of recording personal data could cause us to alter our behaviour patterns — or maybe that’s the point?
Further, now that we can measure precisely how many footsteps we take each day, can we also quantify more ephemeral qualities, such as health, beauty, or happiness? And most ephemeral of all; can this mountain of analysed data possibly ever capture the essence of the person who generated them?
Like all good exhibitions, Lifelogging doesn’t provide answers to these or to the many thousands of other questions that it prompts, but it is an entertaining and thought-provoking venue for raising those ideas, and Science Gallery provides the intellectual space necessary to initiate and sustain these essential conversations.
Data visualisation at the LifeLogging exhibition, Science Gallery Dublin. Photograph: Science Gallery Dublin.
The Lifelogging exhibition is free and runs through the 16th of April. Science Gallery Dublin is open Tuesday through Friday from 12 noon to 20:00, and Saturday & Sunday from 12 noon to 18:00 (closed Monday).
Author theguardian staff
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