LonelyGeeks, LifeLogs and Four Eyed Monsters

Four-Eyed Monsters, LifeLogging and LonelyGeeksA 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.


  1. Prokofy Neva

    Walker, I thought 3pointd meant you never had to say there was an uncertainty principle because you could always get all information and always zoom to all points of view and store them and sequence that at the very least if it were impossible to

    Gosh, this reminds me of the Loud Family, the 1973 12-hour documentary film showing an American family’s every move.

    This 4-monster stuff might be good 3pointd; it might be good life-logging; I don’t hesitate to say, however, that it makes for bad literature.

    I can’t help wondering if the DoJ had to dump the lifelog stuff as it would create too many records of war crimes.

    I can’t believe you’re reducing Vernor’s thing (though you may have seen him in Real and therefore have a different impression) to merely aggregating the collective purchasing power of the Red Bull drinkers. It’s much more about having 1,600 BDSMers conspire together more effectively to have more control over people.

    I thought I already had a powerful resource for making decisions, friends, etc. called “my memory” or “my mind”. Reducing it all to a lifelogger might only make for confusion among the infinity of meta’s.

  2. Mark Wallace

    I didn’t mean to reduce the power of VV’s idea to Red Bull, that’s merely the tip of the energy-drink iceberg. I think I was just getting sick of hearing myself type. But of course you can extend it to anything that’s subject to collective action / pressure, including a lot of things that aren’t today but that will be in the future.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    Well, what I’m saying is that the stuff that VV was talking about was a LOT SCARIER than Red Bull.

  4. Jo

    Hi Mark,

    Very interesting post. It made me think about IN Network, a project we commissioned by Michael Mandiberg and Julia Steinmetz last year: http://turbulence.org/Works/innetwork

    IN Network was an extended cell phone life-art performance about distance, communication, intimacy, telepresence, and living together while apart. During the month of March, Mandiberg (New York) and Steinmetz (California) performed their relationship via a photo moblog and podcasts of their phone conversations. There were also several live audio webcasts of the artists sleeping together on their cellphones. All of their text and picture messages were routed through the site and are now archived there.

    Another project of Mandiberg’s that might be of interest is “The Essential Guide to Performing Michael Mandiberg.” http://turbulence.org/Works/guide/index.html

    Part user’s manual, part experimental self-portrait, The Guide is an on-line tutorial that teaches the user the details of performing Michael Mandiberg’s persona. It is part of The Exchange Program, a series of exchanges in which Michael and nine others switch lives with one another for ten days. The guide-as-user-manual turns personality into procedures, situations, and props.


  5. Jerry Paffendorf

    Blah! Longer comment eaten :( but back on the horse:

    If you want to see Four Eyed Monsters screened in Second Life I’ve got a post about how that could happen if people send enough requests: “Bring Four Eyed Monsters to the City of Second Life!” Everyone who wants to see that happen please submit a request. Takes 10 seconds.

    > I’ll let Jerry contemplate the ramifications of videologging (no “b” here)

    Ha, Justin Hall and Mark Barrett will be at the next Second Life Future Salon on September 26th talking about their projects and balancing the deep creative possibilities of transparency and lifelogging with issues of privacy and control of personal information both on the web and in virtual worlds.Contemplation will occur, and leave off the last “b” for be there!

  6. Jerry Paffendorf

    Update: Four Eyed Monsters co-creator Arin Crumley just left a comment on my post saying he’s added Second Life (labeled as “2nd Life” at the top of the list) to the list of countries on the request form, so use that instead of the zip code hack, ha. If we reach 150 requests FEM will be shown inworld, so get requesting!

    Quoth Arin: “So yes, if that number gets to 150, we’ll honor the promise to book the screening, and hopefully we can pack the virtual house for the screening and show up for a virtual q&a and [throw a] swanky virtual party afterwards, maybe even book a few thursdays in a row if attendance is good.”

    Swank is good. Tell your friends and let’s get this to happen!

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  8. Arin Crumley

    Nice post, a lot of ideas, glad to have a roll in sparking some of them, I really digg the idea of being able to cross reference fresh direct and netflix, I think the answer is in storing that information yourself rather then those sites storeing it, the information is much more useful to you then it is to them. It could help you discover culture, find people you’d think are cool, find the right products you need to buy, decide what vacation trips you’d most be into. I think in terms of “life logging” (nice catch phrase) the best use is internally as a person. In terms of sharing what you log, I guess that does sort of relate to our film in a very loose way. We took all the experiences we’ve had and packaged them in a format we felt could make sense to someone else. The real moment to moment documentation would have been non-sense, so we reconfigured and constructed reenactments and in some cases sparengly used real footage of clips we had made for each other or used real conversations especially at the end of dialog we’ve had about our relationship.

    I think that raw data is the least appealing to people as a way to understand things, but processing it down to what is usefull to someone is the key. So if you are talking about logging peoples every move, the key is that you have a way to filter that down and share it with either the person or with anyone on the net.

    An example is this, iTunes now stores when you skip a song. It also stores play count. If you could have a play list in iTunes that took what it knew was your favorite music based on that information, you’d be taking advantage of that information. But ultimately, I’m with you, I think everything should be cross referenced, I think that is the true web 3.0 or 3 point D as you guys like to call it, everyone has their own online database that stores everything about them.

    Check this idea out, so you post a review of a book and rate it too. That review and rating is stored in your own database. Then which ever sites you are a member of that have access to parts of your database can display that information. Maybe one site is a book club so it shows the 5 most recent books you’ve reviewed and rated as well as your 5 all time favorite books. Your database could also store who you are “friends” with in general as well as on the site. So you could get books recommended to you not just based on your own taste, but also based on the taste of your peers. Hence a reason for computers knowing who your friends are, so that the data can be helpul to you in finding things.

    Or if you are buying something, you could tell the hundreds of user ratings to dissapear on a site and for only the 3 to show up that are freinds or a friend of a friend. That way you could really trust the user reviews. An example of this is taste, you and your friends might all have similar tastes in a product so it is really stupid to care about what everyone says and instead it should really just be about your own friends.

    Anyway, I’m starting this bad habbit of using comments fields on blogs to rant about crazyness, so i’ll stop here, again, thanks for the dialog and discussion and I’m glad people from electric sheep company have had a chance to see our film at IFC Center.

  9. Mark Wallace

    Yes, Arin, I think you have it exactly. Keeping all this information at the user would be an incredibly empowering thing to do. So the only question now is, who is going to step up to the plate and create the Loggr application that lets you do so?

    Jerry and I are canvassing all our friends to request 4EM in Second Life, so I hope to see you there sometime soon. Do you have an avatar yet? Once you do, look me up. You can find me as either Mark Wallace or Walker Spaight.

    Great job with the film, I really enjoyed it. Plus, anything that sparks a 1,400-word blog post is a big success, in my book. See you soon.

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