The data recorded by our mobiles, a digital autobiography

    The mobile phone is a small computer, an inseparable companion, which can act as a black box.

    It records the large set of data that generates what we do during the day. You can even capture and store personal aspects such as hours of sleep, heart rate or where we were at each moment of the day.

    Indeed, we use mobile phones to call, exchange messages and surf the internet. But having it always at hand enables you to do much more. It also allows us to keep a history of everything we do throughout the day. The mobile is capable of archiving text, images, the places where we are and even vital signs

    This capacity has motivated many people to already keep a detailed record, in real time, of relevant aspects of their daily lives. With the mobile they capture data with which they build an entire digital autobiography.

    What is lifelogging?

    Collecting data on personal experiences is known as lifelogging (or recording of vital activities) and allows us to draw conclusions about how we live.

    But this practice is not always done actively and consciously. With text messages, social media posts, and digital photo albums, many people, almost without realizing it, are documenting their own lives.

    It is continuous and meticulous capture, in real time. The mobile archives much of what we do every day. Save the images we capture of the world around us and, if allowed, count our steps, note where we are and even how many hours we sleep. And so we fall into the temptation of wanting to record everything.

    This desire to preserve everything we see, think and even feel as a response to what we live is, in reality, a phenomenon as old as the human being in its desire to perpetuate itself. It is enough to remember the clay tablets of classical antiquity, the logbooks of the merchant marine and personal diaries, among others, to understand that lifelogging is not something new.

    The new thing is that almost everything, or at least much more than it seems, can be registered with digital technology, which is highly integrated into our environment. There are more and more apps aimed at capturing small-scale data about our daily activity. The result is thus a detailed archive whose analysis reveals the keys to our lifestyle.

    A personal black box

    The continuous record of daily activities thus constitutes a kind of personal black box. Social media posts and self-tracking of travel and vital signs are mapping details of everyday life. They are partial and fragmented records, but they have proven their usefulness in many scenarios. Here are some examples:

    Self-control of the state of health. In order to promote a healthy lifestyle, aspects as varied as sports activities, hours of sleep, moods or nutritional habits can be monitored. The mobile can count steps, measure physical activity, calculate energy expenditure and caloric intake. There are even apps capable of measuring heart rate just with the phone’s camera and flashlight.
    Location tracking. Registering our geographical coordinates allows us to build a travel diary, as if it were a travel notebook. The context provided by the union of these geographic data with temporal, visual and social signals triggers episodic memories and activates emotions associated with them.

    Complement of human memory. The ultimate goal of this record is to function as a surrogate memory that will remain unchanged, even if our biological memory fails and fades over time. Thus, relegating parts of our memory in digital technology makes it easier to remember and relive experiences.
    There is also an inherent pleasure in recalling events from the past. And social media plays a key role here. Publishing in them is a contribution to personal identity, self-knowledge and the narration of individuality.

    Although social platforms invite excessive display, if they are used wisely, they allow us to build our own memory, and then rebuild it. And they invite, consequently, to relive events of the past, to rediscover “a day like today”, with the conviction that evoking that moment will cause an emotional reward.

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