New Red Letters Technology Words

IF We Never Forget

Eter­ni­ty arrives in the form of an iOS app, of all things. 

Note­tak­ing (and/or what some cring­ing­ly call “jour­nal­ing”) has always been an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly weighty theme in my day-to-day pur­suits. Most of my rec­og­niz­able val­ue is in thought, which for me has always been unusu­al­ly fick­le. Over the past two years, I’ve come to more clear­ly rec­og­nize an acute obses­sion with per­ma­nence with­in me — a  recur­ring addic­tion to archiv­ing, and my abil­i­ty to serve this obses­sion has grown expo­nen­tial­ly in the past decade. I do not use “obses­sion” light­ly, either: I’ve just recent­ly lugged a small library of bare­ly-used com­po­si­tion note­books between stor­age units, and they’ve bare­ly been used because I had a strong child­hood habit of buy­ing one on a whim, over-spec­i­fy­ing its prospec­tive ele­ments, and sub­se­quent­ly aban­don­ing it after only a few pages out of frus­tra­tion with my handwriting’s insuf­fi­cien­cies. I tried word pro­cess­ing (then, the exclu­sive dig­i­tal alter­na­tive) but met with iden­ti­cal — if even less-sen­si­cal — results.


Today, I dis­cov­ered that IFTTT — the hand­i­est eas­i­ly-acces­si­ble tool avail­able for automat­ing cloud­cen­tric tasks — is now inte­grat­ed with Day One (tech­ni­cal­ly, Day One 2.0…day­won­too) — the gor­geous iOS app I’ve hoped for years would exe­cute such record­keep­ing once and for all. Per­haps more prac­ti­cal­ly, I’ve been groom­ing it to replace Ever­note, which has been eas­ing my ever-present neo­scrap­book­ing urges since its beta in 2008.

As of this moment, there are 15,553 “notes” in my account, and every one is avail­able & syn­ca­ble by the iOS app, desk­top appli­ca­tion, or web brows­er at any time. Grant­ed, a large por­tion are sim­ply Tweets I’ve “liked” — auto­mat­i­cal­ly import­ed at reg­u­lar inter­vals from Twit­ter by a “recipe” I’ve set to run in IFTTT, but thou­sands still are char­ac­ter con­cepts, poems, “web clip­pings,” lec­ture notes, to do lists, etc.[mks_col][mks_one_half]And that’s the thing… Thanks to the pro­gres­sion of the dig­i­tal land­scape, my abil­i­ty to serve this obses­sion has increased expo­nen­tial­ly in just a decade; incon­ceiv­ably more­so than if I would’ve by chance occu­pied any oth­er peri­od in human his­to­ry. I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber when 8GB of flash mem­o­ry was $50.[/mks_one_half][mks_one_half]The same mon­ey will have you well over 100GB, now, and 3.5TB thumb dri­ves were mak­ing head­lines over a year ago, which is a bit more than my entire set­up — includ­ing exter­nal hard dri­ves in stor­age — and I’ve got lit­er­al­ly years worth of raw video (that I’ll nev­er comb through, in all like­li­hood.)


Accord­ing to some tools avail­able from a quick search (which I’ve been unable to find again,) 20 min­utes of 1080p video @ 9 Mbps totals about 4GB in size. So, a full day (24 hours) of video would be 96GB. If we assume 3.5TB of flash mem­o­ry will be acces­si­ble in thumb dri­ve-or-small­er pack­ages to the gen­er­al pub­lic in the next…eh…5 years? That’s 36.46 days… over a month of con­tin­u­ous high def­i­n­i­tion video.


Imag­ine: a sub 1mm-diam­e­ter cam­era (assum­ing par­al­lel leaps in photo/video tech­nol­o­gy) in my glass­es, aligned with my sight, and enough flash mem­o­ry packed in the frames to record every bit of my life. Chances are, you’ve edit­ed or scrubbed through video, so you know that such an endeav­or would be utter­ly hope­less were it not for tan­dem (and ultra-excit­ing) devel­op­ments in AI. Yes, it’d be very sil­ly to browse such gar­gan­tu­an quan­ti­ties of video tak­en from one’s own point of view, but intel­li­gent image iden­ti­fi­ca­tion soft­ware could — in the­o­ry — tell you just about any­thing you’d want to know about any giv­en frame. Chuck in that smooth sci fi voice recog­ni­tion we’re all so des­per­ate­ly wait­ing for and…


Where did I put my keys? How much was that cof­fee grinder… the brown one? And was it Tar­get or Sears? That lady in the left turn lane today… which nos­tril was she pick­ing?


Or even…


Show me her face when she said “yes.”


Yeah, there was a recent film on Net­flix that tossed some very sim­i­lar sub­ject mat­ter around, but the func­tion of such AI was dis­ap­point­ing­ly omit­ted, if I recall, though I could go on and on about its sig­nif­i­cance long past any rel­e­vance.

Take a sec­ond to broad­en the appli­ca­tions of image iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in par­tic­u­lar, though, and con­sid­er just how much about our past could be redis­cov­ered. Every frame of every video ever tak­en, under the scruti­ny of an ever-more-capa­ble observ­er with infi­nite patience and vir­tu­al­ly unlim­it­ed atten­tion-to-detail has star­tling poten­tial to sati­ate curios­i­ty.


How much do you want?

Sub­ject: V-J Day in Times Square, Alfred Eisen­staedt 1945.

X # of indi­vid­u­als in frame wear­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly light-col­ored cloth­ing

X # of indi­vid­u­als in frame smil­ing

X # of win­dows in frame less than or equal to 50% obscured by shades


And it’s all very fun to posit on, isn’t it? Espe­cial­ly for those of us who expect to be alive for such dream­stuff to be real­ized (chances are, you prob­a­bly should.) Even now, I find just the com­par­a­tive­ly-rudi­men­ta­ry auto­mat­ed process­es with­in my iPhone to be mild­ly com­fort­ing. Nev­er aston­ish­ing, real­ly, because I’ve man­aged to keep enough of an eye on the “edge” over the years to pre­vent sur­pris­es.


But as I watch my new, sec­ondary Day One jour­nal (enti­tled “Noise”) fill up with a record of vir­tu­al­ly every sin­gle one of my day-to-day social media inter­ac­tions, I won­der why. Because I can, eas­i­ly and cheap­ly. That’s a pri­ma­ry enabler, yeah? There are more and more such activ­i­ties every week, it seems. What is a life spent doing so many of them, though? What sort of “lega­cy” — if the term is still in your vocab­u­lary — can such lack­adaisi­cal occu­pa­tions con­sti­tute?


And is the sim­ple capa­bil­i­ty itself at all impor­tant, real­ly, since it will not occur to the vast major­i­ty for many years? Are we psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly capa­ble of mak­ing use of such a tremen­dous quan­ti­ty of infor­ma­tion? Or — more pre­cise­ly — rel­e­vant use? Are we mak­ing any sort of prepa­ra­tions for an immi­nent shift in cog­ni­tive reten­tion as a soci­ety?


There are those to whom truth is not always want­ed or ben­e­fi­cial. What about them? What about the occa­sion­al­ly para­noid-seem­ing folks you know who are still ded­i­cat­ing sig­nif­i­cant time and ener­gy to the pur­suit of pri­va­cy, even now? Is it even rea­son­able to assume their lifestyle will remain at all fea­si­ble?