by Barry Chudakov on October 21st, 2009


Metalife happens because we don’t always notice that as we use communication tools, they change our thinking and our lives. So today as new tools compel us to communicate more visually, ‘show don’t tell’ becomes the new business mantra and Gen Y speech patterns compress to acronyms and Tweet-speak. This is part of an evolving adaptation that affects our minds and actions, an adaptation that has been with us since we first started using alphabets.

Imagine then the unintentional Metalife we would create, and the changes to our minds that would follow, when memory becomes a camera. What if memory, a brain function basic to our sense of who we are—could be reduced to images that were catalogued indefinitely, changed in ways we can barely imagine by a camera that takes pictures of our every waking moment? When memory changes, how will we change? We may soon find out. In a pinballing bounce worthy of James Burke, we can now see how something as seemingly remote from communication tools as Alzheimer’s disease can provide that answer and trigger a Metalife connection.

Kurt Kleiner writes in New Scientist, that Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK developed what they called the SenseCam, a wearable digital camera designed to take pictures every 30 seconds, without user intervention. While this was orginally invented to help jog the memories of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, Kleiner suggests that one day it might be used by consumers to “create ‘lifelogs’ that archive their entire lives.”

There are a number of fascinating Metalife triggers in this story. First, for the sake of clarity, let’s be clear about the life/Metalife distinction. The life one lives is the usual day-to-day traverse through events and encounters; the Metalife here is the capture of those events and encounters in a portable database which in the SenseCam configuration can fit 30,000 images into a 1-gigabyte memory.


16.09.2008, Flickr, elisman, all rights reserved.


Ever since the Giroux Daguerrotype was manufactured for sale in 1839, we have been encountering—and living—the Metalife of the lens. Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography, the “insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the [Plato’s] cave, our world.” So what will happen when that insatiable eye is trained solely on the world’s encounter with us?

Some critics have called lifecasting extreme. But lifecasting and ‘lifelogs’ are the logical evolution of the Metalife of the lens. It seemingly is no longer enough to live one’s life as mere events and encounters; the logging of that life, the capture of it via wearable devices such as the SenseCam, foreshadows an emerging Metalife dimension. Just as there is increasing evidence that students no longer see the value of pouring information into their hippocampus when Google extends brain to mean ‘collective intelligence’ and accessing that brain becomes a clickable event—what new meanings will occur in our lives when memory is not a recall but a manipulation? Not a cloudy re-think but a hyperfast scrolling through of a permanent cloud-carried database?

Lifecasting and lifelogs are likely to fundamentally reconfigure memory, taking it outside of our physical brain structures and then—with the reverb typical of Metalife—toss it back at us to alter how we think about our lives, our encounters, our significant others. Imagine, for example, if a lifelog of the night of your first kiss were available to you—for the rest of your life. How would your view of that night change over time? Would it become hilarious or haunting? What if you decided, as some of us are liable to do, that you wanted to live your life less for the living of it and more for the recording and storing of it? Facebook has already changed our notion of ‘friend.’ How much will lifelogs change our notion of memory and our intent regarding the memories we create? Will we invent a new kind of dodge, call it memory avoidance, to keep from having to see memories we’d rather forget?

Photo Credit: Courtesy - Vicon, (Don't miss a moment)

Photo Credit: Courtesy - Vicon, (Don't miss a moment)

While few of us would think of a social networking profile or Facebook wall as wholly representative of our lives, what if every 30 seconds your life were recorded not by something as large as the SenseCam but by an evolved version of the SenseCam that fit neatly in your eyeglasses, your pendant—an unobtrusive 24/7 onlooker to your every moment? Will this digital witness, this alter-echo, become a silent companion? A way of checking up on yourself, proving yourself? A self-extension, a cluttered back porch of the mind?

Finally, imagine the business opportunities such an evolution might spawn: a marriage of digital data storage and eyeglass or jewelery companies; services and apps to sort and make sense of tens of thousands of images; memory enhancement companies to make image-memories come alive as videos and Vlogs; corporate applications to archive daily transactions or security versions designed to monitor employees.

Clearly we are headed for deep Metalife waters here. I believe we’ll be thinking and writing about this for years to come.


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  1. Very thought provoking Barry!


    this reminds me of a quote by Max Frisch, a Swiss novelist after WWII:

    “Technology… the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”

    If I could rephrase that, I would say that technology has just allowed us to experience the world in a whole new way!

  2. the quote from your post is:

    “What if you decided, as some of us are liable to do, that you wanted to live your life less for the living of it and more for the recording and storing of it?”

  3. brant gaird permalink

    Everything is moving so fast – developing at hyperspace – that i’m glad mr. chudakov is keeping pace with it as much as possible and sharing these insights…the thought of doing this myself overwhelms me. thank you for this fascinating information barry and anything you can do to dumb it down for me is appreciated. the more visual for me the better.

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