Microsoft’s Kin Phones Resurrect the Lifelogging Debate

5/7/10Follow @wroush

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studies showing that even the digital files people go out of their way to save, such as photos and videos or scanned documents, are rarely accessed later. “Archival data may be less valuable than the considerable effort expended on these systems would justify,” they write.

Going further, the researchers argue that to the extent that lifelogging is intended as a backup system for our faulty and limited human memories, it’s misconceived. A fancy Kin-style multimedia timeline of moments captured through various technological lenses, after all, is a far cry from a life’s collection of authentic autobiographical memories. And when it comes to triggering memories, a place, face, or name is usually much more effective than a date on a timeline.

“Despite the memory terminology used in lifelogging work, little attention seems to focus on human memory and how it operates,” Sellen and Whittaker conclude. If lifelogging proponents really want to build something useful, their article argues, they should focus on the real shortcomings in human memory. (Remembering intentions, for example, is much harder for most people than recollecting experiences.)

The overall implication of Sellen and Whittaker’s piece is that lifelogging is a technology solution—ubiquitous sensing meets wireless communications meets cheap cloud-based storage, in this case—in search of a real problem. All those tweets and text messages and status updates and digital snapshots, in other words, may have a shelf life about as long as the time it takes for the items to scroll off the tiny screen of a mobile phone.

It’s remarkable to see such a debate playing out between two researchers at the same company—but it’s even more ironic that the company is Microsoft, which built both the Windows Phone operating system running on the Kin One and Kin Two and the Kin Studio platform.

My personal prediction is that certain limited forms of lifelogging will become more and more common, but that few people will choose to go the total-capture route that interests Bell. Photography, for example, is one realm where putting everything online automatically seems useful and natural, especially if you have a “cloud phone” like the Kin or your digital camera has an Eye-Fi memory card (a nifty labor-saver that sends your photos up to your favorite photo sharing site as soon as you come within range of a Wi-Fi network).

I’m also a fan of online notekeeping systems like Evernote, iCyte, and Springpad, which let you store, organize, and annotate copies of Web articles, voice memos, images, scans, or other discrete digital items you might want to refer to later. And just out of paranoia, I back up the hard drives on my work and home computers on two separate cloud storage systems, Carbonite and Mozy. I’m sure all of these things will become even easier and more automatic. But I don’t feel a burning need for a system that would capture my every word or thought, because most of them, to be frank, just aren’t that earthshaking.

I’ve confessed in previous columns to being a digital pack rat. But one nest can only hold so much, and even an “external brain,” as Evernote’s creators have labeled their service, can get cluttered. And in the end, perhaps all this documenting, collecting, and reviewing is more obsessive than constructive. Every minute we spend ruminating on the past is a minute stolen from the present—which is the only time, after all, when anything ever really happens.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

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

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  • Fiona

    People won’t be uploading everything any time soon.

    The fact Kin uploads every photo taken on it will be the whole platform’s demise. Uploading everything causes Kin to have huge data usage, causes the networks to put up data prices for Kins, thus causing the monthly fees for Kin to be much higher than many other phones. People will not want to pay this much for a Microsoft Kin.

    Apart from this, the Kin phone is really lacking functionality. You are not permitted to install any apps yourself. Message updates are on a 15-minute delay before you can read them. Kin can’t IM. It can’t upload images to Twitter. It has no calendar. It only syncs contacts that are from a Microsoft service (won’t do it with Google or other services).

    When you check the detail of Kin, you realize it is very lacking, and won’t do very much. Just about any other phone would be better.