January 27th, 2008 | brainjuice
Lifestreaming seems to be making a comeback. It’s “hot” at various trend sites right now. I wonder where people draw the line. Do people take a photo of every meal they have and upload it to a public site? I think the old Nokia Lifeblog sites were private, weren’t they? I guess some people would consider that kind of record valuable regardless, even though it holds no information for anyone else. Unless you’re eating at an interesting restaurant every night, I suppose. And even then, it’s not much more than a top-slice and a record of plates that have been shoved in front of you. Unless you consider the massive aggregation of feeds from online services that represents the bulk of lifestreaming as digital entrails that meaning can be divined from.
Right now, I’m eating jerky and drinking a cup of coffee. Neither of these came from objects with a net presence, of course. I have to photograph them, curse the really fucking cranky camera in my phone, and upload them. What’s the information? What is the context?
If my camera wasn’t playing silly buggers, you’d doubtless be able to make out that the jerky comes from the excellent Martin’s Jerked Meat. You can’t find the Lewis & Clark Expedition 1804 jerky on the site, they don’t make it any more — I bought the last of it a few months back at Cressing Temple. They made it according to a recipe actually employed on that expedition — one of Martin’s specialties is “historical” jerky.
What do you divine from this? Other than that perhaps I earn too much money? Well, even in the crappy picture you can see the coffee is El Paraiso Lot 20, a first-harvest ground coffee sold by Fortnum & Mason. How much use is this information without personal context? What do you come away with? What have you learned about my life from this instance of lifeblogging, and would you gain a more informed context from a continuous lifestream?
Not unless I held up in front of the camera a card that read “I hate Xmas” with a scrawled explanation underneath. I bloody hate Xmas. Xmas was always, shall we say, a tense time at home when I was growing up. But my girlfriend loves Xmas with a passion, and, of course, so does my daughter. So in the summers I start saving money, to make Xmas a bit of a production for them. I get a goose ordered in from David Harrison, Lili gets to pick a tree from the Hawkwell Tree Farm (unless she decides she’d derive more amusement from watching us try to assemble the stupid, massive, electrocution-risk artificial tree we got given a few years back), I get a crate of champagne and some edible gold and silver leaf to sprinkle in it… and I order a hamper and a fruit basket from Fortnum & Mason to be delivered on Xmas Eve. And that can of coffee was in the hamper this past Xmas.
And the jerky? Lili has always loved doing the country fairs, and Cressing Temple hosts the Essex Food Fair twice a year. Martin’s Jerked Meat were exhibiting there. Lili had never tried jerky before — that’s why she loves these things, she gets to try new stuff and have a go at local arts & crafts, plus there are usually horses and she’s been riding since she was two and so is besotted with the shit-deploying bastards. We came away with six bags of jerky varieties, plus some fruit leathers.
(Fruit leathers she knew, since we once attended a banquet consisting entirely of medieval foods, as orchestrated by the marvellous Stuart Peachey. I hugely recommend his books, for those with an interest, on Tudor- and Stuart-period food. Apparently we couldn’t leave without lots of fruit leather too.)
If I were Bruce Sterling, then by this point I’d have gotten a bag of nails, a crate of RFID tags, eighteen brains and thirty years of future-time and hand-blended them all up in a Japanese shopping bag until I had a microtag fixable to my coffee can and my jerky bag, capable of some hot spime action. Cory Doctorow:
A Spime is a location-aware, environment-aware, self-logging, self-documenting, uniquely identified object that flings off data about itself and its environment in great quantities.
Now, part of what I’ve done here is recapitulate things Bruce said in SHAPING THINGS, which is a book I’ve re-read more times than I can count (and probably still fail to completely understand). And I have to say, it’s a very pleasing book to hold. Nice shape and size. Anyway. The spime and the lifestream, to my eye, have a few things in common. They’re both about the business of knowing what something is, where something is, where something’s been, where something’s going, and where you can find that out.
For a commercial object, this is a valuable thing. To use one of Bruce’s old examples that I might have gotten a joke out of once, it’s also useful for finding your shoes in the morning. Fullbore lifestreaming — becoming an object that records in public — might even help you locate your doorkeys, so long as you didn’t take your SenseCam off when you staggered in drunk last night and stuffed them up the cat’s arse.
But what good is a lifestream that communicates nothing about what something means? Looking at the picture of the coffee can, and even linking the image to the coffee estate, tells you nothing about what that coffee means to me in the stream of my life.
Using the internet to push around basic information in new ways is fun. But it has no meaning without a human context. It’s just lists and bad photographs. That’s not a life.
And since I’ve had to write eighteen thousand fucking words here just to properly contextualise a cup of coffee and a bit of chewy meat, I’d like to now declare lifestreaming closed until someone invents the telepathic blogging hat. Not that I’d wear the telepathic blogging hat, because it’d probably look like a robot’s cock nailed to a rusty bucket. But still.
Have you learned anything useful from what I’m consuming?