Microsoft’s Kin Phones Resurrect the Lifelogging Debate

This week gadget reviewers got their first hands-on look at Microsoft’s much-discussed Kin One and Kin Two phones, which are designed from the ground up to support young hipsters’ social media and content sharing habits. So far, the pundits are raving about the phones’ novel operating system and the cloud-based “Studio” feature, a flashy private website where all of a Kin user’s photos, videos, text messages, voicemails, news feeds, and contacts are collected and displayed. They’re mostly panning the hardware itself, as well as the prices on the Verizon data plans needed to make the phones useful.

But whether or not the Kin phones have what it takes to win over today’s teenage and twenty-something Facebook/Twitter/MySpace addicts, it seems likely that they’ll reignite interest in the idea of “lifelogging”—the attempt to create a comprehensive digital record of one’s daily experiences. Up to now, lifelogging enthusiasts have been forced to handle most of their data-capture and archiving tasks consciously and deliberately: if you came across a Web page you might want to consult later, you could manually bookmark it or save it to a service like Evernote or iCyte; if you wanted to share or store a photo you snapped, you could put it on Flickr or Photobucket or Tweetphoto.

Kin TwoThe Kin phones’ big redeeming feature, according to the reviewers, is that this sort of stuff all happens behind the scenes, automatically. Within five minutes of snapping a photo on a Kin phone, for example, the picture is wirelessly transmitted to Microsoft’s servers and added to your Studio, where it stays forever, adding to a running timeline of your life. “The implications here are huge: This is how cloud stuff is supposed to work,” writes Gizmodo’s John Herrman.

The Kin phones offer a taste of what may be coming sooner than anyone expected: a world full of cheap, portable sensing devices that document every interaction, every experience, and every perception we have, continuously uploading the information to vast server farms in the sky where the cost of storage is only a tad above zero. As it happens, this is exactly the world portrayed in Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything, a 2009 book by Microsoft researchers Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell. But even Bell— who began perhaps the world’s most ambitious lifelogging project back in 1998—might be surprised by how quickly his vision is growing into reality.

Soon, Bell and Gemmell wrote last year, everyone will be able to keep a digital diary recording everything about their lives that’s recordable:

If you choose, everything you see can be automatically photographed and spirited away into your personal image library with your e-memory. Everything you hear can be saved as digital audio files. Software can allow you to scan your pictures for writing and your audio files for words to come up with searchable text transcripts of your life. If you choose, you can save every e-mail you send and receive and every Web page you visit. You can record your location and path through the world. You can record every rise and dip in your heart rate, body temperature, bloodsugar, anxiety, arousal, and alertness, and log them into your personal health file.

All that will be needed to achieve this vision of “total recall,” Bell and Gemmell wrote, is an array of cheap, wearable hardware—“unobtrusive cameras, microphones, location trackers and other sensing devices that can be worn in shirt buttons, pendants, tie clips, lapel pins, brooches, watchbands, bracelet beads, hat brims, eyeglass frames, and earrings” or even implanted inside the body. Bell, who helped design Digital Equipment Corporation’s giant PDP and VAX computers in the 1960s and 1970s, is himself a walking laboratory for … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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