How Many Days Can We Remember? How Man Days Should We Remember?

If we all lived to be a century old, we’d have 36,524.2 days to remember.  If you sat down with a pack of 3×5 index cards and wrote about one memorable day on each card, how many days do you think you could remember?  How many of those memories can you attached to a specific date?  Most of our life is quickly forgotten, but technology arising in the 20th and 21st century is letting us document our days.  So it might be possible to record our entire life.  What will that mean?

For the past week I’ve been scanning in old pictures Susan and I have inherited after the deaths of our parents.  Each photo documents a moment in time in our family and friends lives.  It’s a lot of work just to organize a couple thousand pictures, imagine if you had lifetimes of 24×7 video of all your ancestors to archive?  This Google Glass video will give you an idea of what that would be like

Google Glass will be more of a game changer than the smartphone, we just don’t know it yet.  I have almost a century of family photos, and each picture is just one frame, without sound, a visual instant in person’s life.  I look at my photographs and wonder about each, trying to imagine what my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, and countless cousins lives were like.  For most scenes I can only fantasize what they were.  How would it be different if I had 60 frames a second, times 60 seconds, times 60 minutes, times 24 hours, times 365 days, times 100 years?  3,156,000,000 images.  And that’s with sound and words and voiced emotion to explain everything.  I’d really know all about my mysterious ancestors rather than just guessing at what their lives were like.  I actually know what they thought about how they lived.

My parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all had photography and writing, but they left me very little evidence to explain their lives.  I wished they had left more.  I doubt they spent much time thinking about what they’d say to the future and spent all their conscious moments living in the present.  But we have another choice.  We can talk to the future, in high definition video no less.  What will we say?  What should we say?

Google Glass is the ultimate selfie.  Will it make terrible narcissists out of us all?  The philosophers tell us the unexamined life is not worth living, but can we take that too far?  Or will this technology make us humble and objectively self-aware?

Even the video above is telling – will we all try to experience as many film worthy events as possible, to validate our existence?

People put photos and write about their experiences now on Facebook, but how often do we do something worth remembering?  Facebook has become a public diary and most people chronicle their days documenting the most mundane of events.  Do all my family and friends need to know I went to a movie or ate out at a popular chain restaurant?  Do I need to remember that a year from now? Will anyone after I’m dead want to know about it either?  If I went on a hot air balloon ride or sky diving, then yes.  But what normal activities should we record for ourselves, our friends, and for our descendants who wonder about the lives of their ancestors?  I’m sure we don’t want to just remember birthdays, Christmases, graduations and weddings.

What moments in your life express and define who you are more than other moments?

How often have you experienced something that you said at the time, “I want to remember this moment forever!”

What days are really are worth remembering?

What if we imposed a limit?  Let’s say good manners and practical time limits will determine how narcissistic we can be, but I also think who our intended audience will determine the amount of information we should save.  Now that I’m getting older, I wish I had vast amounts of documentation about my life simply because I can’t remember most of it.  My father died when I was 18, and my grandfathers died before I could remember them at all.  My grandmothers died when I was about 20.  So I never really knew any of them.  I wish I had a book length autobiography from each, with plenty of photos and a DVD of videos.  And even though my mother lived to be 91, and I got to hear her side of things, I would like to know what she would have chosen to say about herself in such a summary.

Facebook and Google Glass will gather a lot of raw material for own autobiographies, if we decide to write them, and we probably should.  Such a memorial would be much more informative than merely having a gravestone.  Facebook, Google Glass, and smartphones with cameras and video cameras, are letting us to collect vast amounts of data about ourselves.  What we need now is software to help us organize it all.  And we need models to emerge on how best to summarize our lives, and rules of etiquette for how narcissistic we should be.

JWH – 1/20/14

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