We look at the new technologies surrounding the new trend for life-caching.
Trend: Preserving memories forever
When new technology collides with an old behaviour, lifestyle trends are born. That's certainly true in the case of the emerging activity that technologists are calling "life-caching", which combines the human instinct to record our experiences with the rise of wearable devices and global, always-on connectivity.
It's clear that the desire to life-cache – that is, to capture our day-to-day experiences and preserve them as a record for ourselves and to share with others – is nothing new. Rewind 30 years and the primary life-caching device was the family photograph album. Today, though, we face an imminent future in which every second of our lived experience – the sights, the sounds, the feel, even the thoughts – can be recorded and stored in the cloud (the nebulous place where, currently, your Facebook photos live). Give it a few decades, say proponents, and there may be people whose entire lives, from near-birth onwards, have been cached.
We're not quite there yet. But already a host of new sites are hoping to come early to the trend. The Estonian start-up myHistro (www.myhistro.com) allows users to create and share stories from their lives using a timeline, maps and photos. With the site currently in beta-mode, users have uploaded stories with titles such as "Places I have lived" and "My family story". Meanwhile, Moment Garden (www.momentgarden.com) is positioning itself as a life-caching service for parents: users can send photos, stories and updates to their account to be worked into an attractive timeline. Indeed, even the Facebook Timeline profile page nods to life-caching, aiming as it does to present an at-a-glance encapsulation of the user's existence.
It's the next decade, though, that could see a vastly more powerful form of life-caching go mainstream. For a while now, technologists have been rushing to embrace that future: in 2007, for example, the computer scientist Gordon Bell ran a Microsoft project called MyLifeBits, in which he uploaded every book he read, every text message he sent, every photo he took. But the promise of true life-caching is more: a 24/7 movie of your life, with you as the director.
Life-caching is on the agenda now because the technology that makes that possible is becoming a commercial reality. 4G wireless networks are fast enough to stream live video from mobiles. The cost of cloud storage – where all this data must reside – continues to fall exponentially. Devices such as the tiny Looxcie wearable camera (www.looxcie.com), which clips behind the ear, capture video and stream live to others watching on a smartphone. There are even rumours that Google's forthcoming "augmented reality" glasses will have life-caching functionality.
Which raises the philosophical questions: if we start to record our entire lives, how will this change the way we experience the world, and other people? Will we see the rise of new forms of art, as people sell edited highlights of their "life streams" to one another? If future generations become able to dip in and out of streams live, will they lose touch with the idea of individual experience as we understand it, and instead become a kind of "hive mind" in which all experience is part of a greater whole?
Remember all that fuss over the Facebook Timeline? It will soon seem a distant and rather quaint precursor to the main event.