Google Glass is "Lifelogging v1"

Concerns about privacy and an uneasiness about Google's power is making Glass seem awkward. But it could validate the idea of lifelogging...
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor
The evolution of lifelogging computers. Think about that guy on the right in 1980 --- he had virtually *nothing* to work with when building that. Even the battery would have weighed a ton.

Personally, I think Google Glass is going to be a total disaster. But, I'm grateful to Google for actually doing something so big and splashy in this space that we all get a chance to think about this sort of technology. If Glass has been a Kickstarter project, it'd get a load of interest, and then a year later you'd get a long collection of apology emails from the founders whining about an inability to actually deliver the project as promised. It'd then likely collapse into obscurity.

At least with Glass it'll arrive and be a thing. It'll be a "version one" thing, so it won't work exactly how you expect and will likely be deeply disappointing. (Working voice control at the top of a rollercoaster? Puh-leeze.)

And, it would make far more sense to make a thing you strapped to your forehead like a Cyclopian eye rather than on a piece of quasi-eyewear. Post-PC devices, and Glass is definitely a post-PC device, are relationship-centric. Eye contact is an absolute requirement of fostering an emotional connection between human beings. Google Glass is designed to partially obscure the eye. That's enough for me to write it off to be honest.

Most people seem to be railing about Glass because of privacy issues, but I wonder with them whether a) people will end up caring that much, and b) whether other cultures around the world will manage to be at peace with most of their citizens wandering around the cameras stuck onto their bodies.

Read: Google Glass -- you'll kiss your privacy goodbye and not mind a bit

After all this though, Glass is not a "wearable computer". It's a lifelogging device, and lifelogging is seriously interesting.

OK, Glass

If you watch the video that Google have put out about Glass, a lot of it is "OK, Glass -- record a video", or "OK, Glass -- take a picture". There are some other Google-y bits, like hangouts, navigation, and search, but most of the message is about making some sort of visual record of your life.

Well, OK. That's just "lifelogging".

Lifelogging is the principle of having a device on or around you that can either take video or still pictures that records what you're doing automatically. It isn't a new idea -- the only change now is that we're much more as a society in the mood to form relationships with our devices, and those devices are small and capable enough to fade into the background as true ubiquitious computing devices.

Not only is "lifelogging" not a new idea the idea of "recording one's life" is an even older idea that is important from anthropological and psychological perspectives. I've called this piece "Google Glass is 'Lifelogging v1'" -- the reality is that a v1 lifelogging system is probably an individual scratching out a daily journal with a quill pen. Over time we learned to use photos as a shorthand for keeping journals of our lives. Some individuals do keep written journals -- I've never got into the habit, although perhaps I should have done -- but most of us now carry around a decent camera with us all time time and likely each have multiple gigabytes of photos/videos in our personal archives. Given this, Glass might in fact be "v10" lifelogging platform.

Why lifelogging appeals to me is that I think it's an idea that's come at the right time. In the first instance, you have to have the technical capability to build lifelogging systems. I've covered some of that already -- most of the technology is there, and bandwidth and storage is converging on being virtually zero-cost. In the second instance, you have to have the will to build such things. 

Luckily for fans of this idea, the whole technology industry is now full of people around about 40-years-old that are in senior decision making positions, who have children, and who also have a memory of how difficult photography used to be when they were children. I sporadically had access to a camera throughout the 1980s -- I maybe took 20 photos a year on average thanks to me not having the camera on me and having to go through the cost. On reflection, I note that although I remember getting the photos processed, I own absolutely none of those photos now.

With my own kids, I always have a camera, and photography is free. When I photograph them, am I logging their lives or mine? My view is that I'm actually logging mine -- i.e. I'm recording my own personal experience as a father to them. I'm sure they'd like copies when they're older, but the value of those photos is to me, not them.

In summary -- the timing is right. The demand -- lots of people with children wanting to keep the sort of life record that their own parents found hard to keep -- is there. The supply -- the right technology and individuals looking to invest for much the same reasons as those demanding -- is right. Lifelogging, I think, is shaping up to be a huge industry.

Failure pending

Weirdly, there is a lot of ill-feeling about what Google are doing. Most people seem suspicious about Google collecting loads of information and monetising it through advertising. Really? That just sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. I get that Google is a business, but they're just one company looking to build a device that has a sociological precedent -- we as humans need to keep a record of our lives. Simply making that record bigger provides an emotional win for those that invest the time into using it. Lifelogging makes a ton of sense.

The Memoto lifelogging doodad, clipped to a jacket. Perhaps more socially acceptable than a camera slapped on the side of one's head?

It's not just Google doing it either. In a couple of months I hope to get a review unit from Memoto -- a dedicated lifelogging device that was one of 2012's Kickstarter darlings. There will, I'm sure, be more devices like this.

The problem is that I'm not sure Google knows it's building a lifelogging system and as a result it's a bit broken. A little necklace like the Memoto would seem more easily accepted by society -- plus a little startup doesn't have the whole "they are evil moneygrabbers!" feel that Google has. Glass has got an awfully big battle to win, and it hasn't exactly come out of the gate cleanly. Plus, Glass seems top specialised a device, failing to have focus on the one thing it could be really good at. Other lifelogging devices are could well take this very general, very appealing market -- albeit only after Google has prepared the ground with Glass.

Where I think v1 lifelogging devices like this will fail is that if you take out a camera and intentionally take a photo or shoot a video, you think about things like angles, framing, zooms, etc. Unless the software within lifelogging hardware is very sophisticated, I'm concerned that most of the images that are captured will disappoint. They'll be mostly like accidentally taking a photograph when you're holding your camera.

But, regardless, that situation should get better. And even having rubbish images to look back on in your dotage is better than no images at all...

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Wikipedia (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license), Memoto

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