There’s no denying the word “blog” carries some serious New Web connotations, but its roots extend far beyond cat memes and heated debates on cryptocurrency. Before there was Myspace or Facebook or any of the other myriad of social media sites found on the Internet today, weblogs served as a simple means for the unheard masses to share what was on their minds.
Today, social media sites cater to an endless number of interests, but their overarching goal is the same as the blogs of yore: serving the quantified self. Whether with hard numbers or soft status updates, to a crowd or for themselves, people love collecting and recording the data of day-to-day life, as seen by the flood of Facebook Look Back videos popping up in your news feed. Today’s technology — not to mention a looser definition/expectation of privacy — only makes the task easier.
Matt Skuta isn’t the first person to record trivial moments of his everyday life, but he may very well be the first person to turn them into a compilation of 365 one-second snippets — one from each day for an entire year. Skuta explained his motivation behind the project in a recent Time article, stating, “If I’m trying to convey anything, it’s that life goes by incredible fast.” Once the 6:45 video comes to a close, you’ll know exactly what The University of Oklahoma student means.
The web is the first (and perhaps largest) factor in allowing something like this to happen. While people have been attempting to record their lives in some fashion — text, video, audio, cave paintings — pretty much forever, a project like Skuta’s would have been met with skepticism as early as two or three decades ago. Now, anyone with a camera and the insatiable need to hit the record button has the potential to reach a worldwide audience with their work. That alone is all the motivation certain personality types need to pick up a camera and start filming.
Then there’s the smartphone angle. While the web may have connected people at home and work, mobile devices and data networks have given people a cheap and fast way to capture and transmit info anywhere there’s a cell phone signal. Just think of YouTube before and after the smartphone revolution. While the site used to be full of video clips from personal camcorders, much of its content today comes from phone and tablet cameras.
As the sophistication of hardware, software and social media platforms continues to improve, the number of people sharing a piece of their personal lives with the World Wide Web will continue to increase. Like we have already established, people have been doing this in some form or another since the dawn of time, so vlogs and blogs and pictures of food on Instagram are really not-so-distant cousins of pen-and-paper journals and everything that came before them.
We’ve all wondered what our big book of life stats looks like: how many hours we’ve slept, the number of keyboard keys we’ve pressed and so on. While video blogs and the like do allow us to document our daily lives in amazing ways, the “quantified” in quantified self implies a need for a meaning behind all of this data.
The Striiv pedometer, for instance, records and stores every step the user takes, then transforms the data into meaningful insights. The end result is somewhere between creepy and cool, with custom challenges based on past performance and a boatload of metrics to analyze and fret over via a browser-based dashboard.
Competition plays an equally huge role, allowing users to challenge each other through their integrated social network, with real-world stats deciding the outcome to their weight loss and distance bouts. While many of the Striiv’s services are designed to motivate users to get out and walk, it’s the data that ultimately encourages them to lace up their shoes and go for a stroll. And that, in the end, is what the quantified self is all about.
While smartphones are excellent tools for quantifying daily life, mobile apps specifically designed for the purpose can make the process much easier. In general, mobile apps tend to work on a looser interpretation of the term quantify, with less of a focus on hard numbers than dedicated hardware like the Striiv. Of these apps, Memoir is perhaps the most useful. Memoir combines the basic quantifying tools, like cameras and note-taking software, with other less obvious device features, like GPS hardware and social media accounts, to create “your memoir.” But the app’s real selling point is its ability to solicit photos from friends, further adding to the pool of data users can access.
DayOne is another popular app with similar functionality. Both DayOne and Memoir sell themselves on the idea of saving and categorizing memories, but DayOne’s approach is a little more open-ended, helping users store more of the data they’re most interested in keeping. Both apps are built for ease of storage and recall, featuring connectivity with popular cloud platforms and context-specific reminders based on factors like the date or the user’s physical location. And if you don’t feel like taking up space on your phone or tablet’s harddrive with one of these apps, you can always stick with Facebook or Instagram.
Moore’s Law technically speaks more to the power behind hardware than the experience it provides, but history tells us the consumer-facing end grows just as fast in terms of overall function and “cool factor.” Hardware is shrinking, and devices are cozying up to one another like they never have before, making it easier for individuals to relive their days through pictures and videos
Imagine recording, tallying and storing every moment of your life, just so you have the information available later down the line. While it’s impossible to say exactly how the quantified self movement will progress in the midst of another tech revolution, there’s little doubt the public will embrace it. The question is, how and where are we going to store everyone’s food pics and selfies?