A few of us from the Brooklyn metaverse crowd went to see Four-Eyed Monsters last night, a very interesting feature film about a young New York couple who end up documenting their every move via videotape and handwritten notes, only because they’ve decided not to actually speak to each other. While the film is not a documentary, it was made by the couple who it’s about, and their real lives and dramatized lives do begin to converge toward the end of the film. While it’s a movie about relationships (you know, the kind where two people “slowly start to meld into one beast that has 2 mouths, 4 eyes and 8 limbs and takes up 2 seats on the subway!!!”), it’s in greater measure a movie about the act of recording itself, and what it means at a moment in history when you can store, play back and share as much of your life as you like, with as many people as are willing to pay attention. In this case, Susan and Arin have created a virtual version of their real life together, and it’s interesting to ask what the differences between the two may be, if any — especially in light of similar trends in things like lifelogging, and in the fictionalization of a life like lonelygirl15‘s. And if you stay with this long-winded post all the way to the end, you get to think about how this kind of logging of our lives might help enhance them in some future 3pointD world.
“How long can their relationship survive as an art project???” asks the Four Eyed Monsters Web site. But that doesn’t describe everything that’s going on here. There’s an art project unfolding, but there’s a relationship too. Are they the same thing? Does the art project follow the course of the relationship, or is the relationship subservient to the art project? The truth is probably somewhere in between: you can’t separate the relationship from the art project; at some level, the relationship is the act of documenting itself. A more interesting question might be, “How long could their relationship survive if it stopped being an art project?”
The documented life got some attention recently with the stellar rise of lonelygirl15, who appeared to be recording her days via a video diary on YouTube. Except that lonelygirl15, who’d garnered millions of fans in the four months she’d been videoblogging herself, turns out to be the construct of a couple of young California filmmakers. “Bree” was a totally fictional character, but it’s interesting to ask how the fictional Bree differs from the fictionalized Susan and Arin. Four Eyed Monsters is composed for the most part not of documentary footage but of re-enactments. (And in any case, what does it mean to re-enact what was in part acted out in the first place?) Are the characters of “Susan” and “Arin” that appear on the screen somehow qualitatively different from the character of “Bree” that appears in the YouTube videos? Are they all virtual people, or do Susan and Arin have some deeper gravitas for being based on their actual counterparts? And isn’t Bree, the lonely teenager, based on an actual archetype? Does that make her any “more fictional” than the characters in the film? Or is that like being “more pregnant”?
One of my favorite ideas is the impossibility of autobiography: you can’t ever really give an accurate account of yourself and your history; there are just too many intangibles of memory, bias and emotion that get in the way. Four Eyed Monsters is only one version of the lives of Arin and Susan. Cut together differently, the film could have given a very different impression, or examined some other aspect of what it’s like to come together in the way they have. You can’t present all views at once, and any one view leaves out some amount of information. (There’s a 3pointD uncertainty principle here that I’ll post about at some point in the future.)
Lately, though, some people have been looking for ways to capture their lives in as much detail as possible, using the tools of the information age. While the Internet and digital media make recording the scenes of one’s days far easier than it has been before, they also make possible, at least in theory, a detailed quantification of one’s life that could potentially be very useful in a future metaversal age.
One failed version of this is the now-discontinued LifeLog program of the Department of Defense. “The LifeLog capability would provide an electronic diary to help the individual more accurately recall and use his or her past experiences to be more effective in current or future tasks,” according to DARPA‘s description. “The goal of the LifeLog is to turn the notebook computers or personal digital assistants used today into much more powerful tools for the warfighter.”
That program is no more, but into the breach has stepped ur-blogger Justin Hall, who’s been looking at “Passively Multiplayer Online Games” in recent months. (We first blogged about this back in June.) Basically, a PMOG, in Justin’s early conception, logs all your Internet activity and assigns scores based on various factors such as which and what kind of sites you visit, for how long, and what you do there, etc. It’s not very far advanced beyond an idea, but a kind of proof-of-concept version of Justin’s game is online, where you can see how surfing various sites might raise or lower various attributes that are used to describe your avatar in the game.
It’s interesting to contemplate what it might be like to compare the fictionalized self created by such a game to the real person who plays it. But this kind of lifelogging can be taken a giant step further and allowed to bleed out into the real world, where it could become really useful (or really scary, depending on who’s doing the logging).
It already happens on the Web all the time: the recommendations you get from Amazon or NetFlix and the targeted ads in your Gmail sidebar all work off subsets of the lifelogging idea. Amazon, NetFlix and Google log your activity on their sites, and use that information to point you toward things that are in line with the preferences you’ve shown in the past.
Now extend that idea to all areas of your life. Imagine if, after you’d used FreshDirect for a while, it started automatically ordering and delivering your food for you, based on the orders you’d placed in the past. Now knock down the walls between FreshDirect’s information and the information gathered by NetFlix, and it might even tweak your delivery based on what kind of movies you’d ordered that week. (Popcorn and chocolate for the chick flicks, Red Bull for the slasher movies?) Now imagine you’re sharing all this information — travel itineraries, iTunes playlists, anything else you care to name — with a whole bunch of other people, much as Susan and Arin shared the moments of their lives.
I’ll let Jerry contemplate the ramifications of videologging (no “b” here) one’s life for all to see. Logging the data of your every move, though, could get interesting. Vernor Vinge mentioned the potential opportunities that are opened by this in his keynote speech at the end of the recent Austin Game Conference. Vinge envisioned “lifestyle cults” that gather and share their information in order to garner favorable terms in whatever context. If 1,600 other people in your neighborhood all order Red Bull on the weekends, for instance, you ought to be able to leverage that into a discount. Things like that seem to be the gist of Vinge’s thinking here.
If it sounds outlandish to be sharing so much information with so many other people, consider the fact that Web 2.0 has pushed us much further in that direction than almost anyone thought we would head. On Flickr, YouTube, Blogger and so many other sites, we offer up personal information about our habits, thoughts, purchases and selves every day — many times a day, in fact. One of the ideas behind lifelogging is simply that you as an individual would be able to aggregate all that information in a single place. Without revealing anything more than you’re already putting out there, you’d immediately have a powerful resource for doing things like making decisions, making friends, making new discoveries, you name it.
Me, I’ve shared enough in this post already. (1,400 words!) See you — or some version of you, at least — at the movies.