The (Over)Examined Life?

Scott Carlson has an interesting piece in the Chronicle – “On the Record, All the Time” – about “lifelogging,” making a digital record of your life day-to-day.

Carlson thinks back to Vannevar Bush’s famous Memex, a method of indexing information by trails of personal associations. He mulls over the implications for learning and memory. Could recording your life make it easier to index it? find memories? recall material from a course you’re taking? Would you be inundated with cease-and-desist letters because your life record happens includes music you overheard, television you watched, something you read? Would you act differently if you knew a record was being made? How would those around you feel if you you captured their lives, too? And wouldn’t it make writing a subpoena a breeze? (Where were you on the night of February 5th? Don’t answer that, just hand it over. All of it. Make sure it includes your GPS coordinates.)

Mark T. Bolas, who teaches film at UCLA believes we’ll all be doing this soon, and it will be a good thing because “nobody could ever lie again.” Maybe I’m just cranky because I live in a part of the country where it hasn’t been above zero for days, but someone who lives in LA and studies film for a living doesn’t seem to me to be the most reliable authority on how to tell the truth.

I’m more taken with the SF dystopian versions Carlson refers to, and with the ideas Jeffrey Rosen, George Washington University law professor and privacy expert, raises.

Jewish law says that the mere possibility of unwanted observation, even if no one is really watching, injures a person’s sense of privacy . . . Anyone who has ever thought seriously about privacy would shudder at the thought of a lifelogged world, Mr. Rosen says. “The standard techno-positivist enthusiasm — that this is inevitable and that we should get used to it — is wrong and dramatically understates the social cost of this sort of technology,” he says.

We’ve become altogether too used to trading technological advances for the benefits of personal privacy, whether for exhibitionism, convenience, or national security. Even if lifelogging isn’t tempting, this essay about it brings many of those issues into clearer focus.

posted by Barbara Fister

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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