Skip to main content

Lifelogging isn’t dead. It lives on, just without any of the promised benefits

If you were interested in technology around 2013 and 2014, lifelogging, or the practice of recording everything about your life for digital posterity, increased self-awareness, and potentially personal growth, was the big trend. The wide adoption of lifelogging seemed inevitable, at least based on the number of products and interest surrounding it, but it never really took off in the way lifelogging evangelists said it would.

Or did it?

Despite all the privacy concerns that eventually made lifelogging a dirty word, we have still all become lifeloggers — we just don’t call it that. Sadly, we may have lost out on the main redeeming feature about it in the process.

Lifelogging tech

Google Glass is perhaps the quintessential life-logging product. It was designed to be worn all the time and had a camera that could take stills and video, which it then uploaded directly to Google Now (remember that?) for all to see, and you to remember. You could feasibly catalog everything that happened in your daily life, and have it available on your own dedicated online diary immediately. We all know what happened to Google Glass.

Google Glasses
M Bowles/Getty Images

Sony’s Core was a little different, but the idea was the same. A central control module fitted inside a wristband and worked as a simple fitness tracker, but it also had a button you pressed to “bookmark” key events during your day. Using your phone’s camera to take a photo, these two events were collated inside Sony’s Lifelog app, where you could add your own notes. When it was announced in 2014, Sony also showed off a tiny wearable camera concept product called the Xperia Eye to go along with the Core.

Then there were dozens of dedicated lifelogging cameras, from the Narrative Clip to the Memoto, and apps galore including Path, Journey, and Foursquare. Google returned to the lifelogging well in 2017 with the Clips wearable camera, which aimed to bypass the privacy problems that plagued Google Glass by only capturing short GIF-style clips, not recording audio, and not uploading anything to the internet automatically.

lifelogging google clips press close

Almost none of these products and services survive today. The lifelogging envisaged by Google, Sony, and many others seemed to be a short-lived trend, killed by concerns over privacy and over-sharing. People dismissed it, migrated to vlogs on YouTube and Periscope, adopted a chosen social network, or just went with health-based quantified-self tracking. Lifelogging as a singular concept was done.

So much data

Until it popped up during a very recent meeting where a new fitness tracker was being introduced, I hadn’t heard the phrase “lifelogging” since around the time of Google Clips. Hardly any products or services are labeled as “lifelogging,” anymore, but it’s not because the trend or desire to track the minutiae of our lives has disappeared.

We do it every day with the photos and videos taken on our phones. Fitness trackers monitor our health and activity and link to platforms like Apple Health, Google Fit, and Huawei Health. Google Maps remembers our location and sends a monthly report of our movements, while Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all provide our own online space to record any and every activity.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Smart home devices know how warm our houses are, when we switched the lights on, the level of humidity, and how long we sleep at night. Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, Apple News, Amazon, and most airlines know what we watch, read, or buy, and where we travel to. Emerging trends like Clubhouse share our voice, and vlogs share curated versions of someone’s life for all to voyeuristically enjoy. Even if you only use a handful of these tools, your personality will be reflected in the data.

Personal development through our data

Leaving aside the implications of the wealth of data we all hand over to various companies and platforms, it struck me that like many, I’m happily lifelogging away without really realizing it. The vast majority of my activities over the past years have been logged online to some extent, either with or without personal information being included and retained for at the very least a short period of time. Lifelogging had a point to it, and now we’re at a time when the sheer amount of data may reveal something about us we hadn’t considered before.

At its most basic, the point of lifelogging, or keeping any diary or journal of events, is to recall and enjoy those past events at a later date. However, there’s also the idea of using the data to better yourself. In this video made by lifelogging company Memoto, Quantified Self Labs’ program director Ernesto Ramirez says, “We have tools and devices that tell us what those numbers [related to what we have been doing, from watching TV to walking] really are, and exactly how we lived in the world. If we know those things we can have a clearer picture of who we are, and if we have a clearer picture of who we are, we can ask is that really the person I want to be?”

Yet because the concept of lifelogging promoted more than six years ago has been lost, all that pertinent data is spread across the internet, siloed, deleted, or hidden away in a long-forgotten platform, or simply not always immediately or conveniently available to us. Any usefulness it may have as a tool for encouraging personal growth is simply not there. Embracing lifelogging the way it was promoted in 2014 might have changed that.

What lifelogging could have been

Trying to bring all that information together is almost impossible today. Snippets can be gathered, but it’s only part of the story. I don’t have an expansive digital scrapbook, a single online space with everything I wanted to keep, because I didn’t or couldn’t make one. The concept of a personal digital repository for lifelogged data isn’t new. Bill Gates hinted at it in his book The Road Ahead in 1995, which eventually led to the Microsoft research project MyLifeBits, aka Total Recall.

The project, run by lifelogging luminaries Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell, is a glimpse of what lifelogging could have been. Bell wanted to create a system where we could store and make use of the data we shared online, whatever it was. Although a central repository for all my data doesn’t sound like a good idea, or even that feasible anymore, the idea of being able to examine and possibly take advantage personally of everything shared and collected online over the years has considerable value.

There’s every chance that when collated and examined all this data wouldn’t tell me anything of use outside of being used for nostalgia, but on days of more significance, it may. The point is, I will probably never find out, yet I’m still putting in all the hard work generating that data.

Lifelogging the phrase may have effectively died out in 2015, but all the related activities evolved and have continued, only becoming more important to shaping who we are now and the environment around us. It’s unfortunate that I can’t view and learn from all this data, the creation and sharing of which was impossible to fathom a couple of decades ago, to perhaps influence who I will become. It seems lifelogging was, and still is, a trend, it’s just we haven’t benefited from it in the way we could have.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
I have to stop using the Pixel 7a — but I don’t want to
The Google Pixel 7a face down on a table.

I think the Google Pixel 7a is all the phone I need. I’m not saying it’s the only phone I’ll ever use, seeing how my job and interest in mobile tech don’t work that way. But the Pixel 7a is so excellent that if I was a free spirit, I’d buy it, settle down, and not worry about any other phones for a couple of years.

My admiration for the Pixel 7a goes beyond it just ticking a few basic requirement boxes and extends to the device’s overall ability and the ease with which it has fitted into my life. I genuinely think it’s a better purchase than the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro, and if I didn’t have to swap my SIM card to another phone this past weekend, I’d still be using the Pixel 7a today.
The software makes my life easy

Read more
Can a $450 phone beat the Samsung Galaxy S23’s cameras? It’s close
Samsung Galaxy S23 and Galaxy A54 in hand

Samsung has a typical release schedule each year that starts with the main flagship devices. After that, there are some new, budget-friendly options.

So far in 2023, Samsung has given us the flagship Galaxy S23 lineup, which includes the S23, S23 Plus, and the S23 Ultra. Though the S23 Ultra is no doubt the most powerful of the trio, the standard S23 is also great for those who want a more compact smartphone that still packs a punch.

Read more
Apple iPad is almost back down to its cheapest-ever price
The iPad 10.2 on a table.

We don't see significant Apple deals every day. Even Apple products that are years-old pull full price. The best place to look is Amazon, and they have a noteworthy iPad deal happening today. The iPad Air (9th Gen) is $59, down to just $270. The lowest this product has ever gotten at Amazon is $250, so this is a steal. Don't let it pass you buy.

Why You Should Buy the Apple iPad (9th Gen)
In Digital Trend's Apple iPad 9th Gen review, Adam Doud made it clear that while, yes, it's the same iPad we know and love, some of the upgraded features are definitely worthwhile. He praised its great battery life, powerful internals, which offer reliable performance, front-facing camera upgrade, and Apple's amazing software support. The base model also gets more storage in this model, with 64GB of internal storage. If you want to know a little more about those upgrades you can always check out the Apple iPad 2022 vs. iPad 2021 comparison. It breaks everything down in finer detail and explains the differences.

Read more