If only I was born later

December 08, 2002

If only my parents could have had me later than they did. I have to think that every generation thinks the same thing at some point — "if only I was born a little later." I've always thought about this, but for changing reasons. I used to wish that I would have been born later so that I could have had all of these 'computerized' toys that are rife with kids these days. I remember when mobile phones first started to become commonplace and wishing I had one when I was like eight. Forget walkie-talkies.

The latest thing causing me to second-guess the timing of my birth is the slew of articles that keep popping up concerning the 'cataloging' of one's entire life. There is a major research project under way to make this a reality. The idea posed by the MyLifeBits project (mentioned in this Wired article) is that everything you say, do, read, write, and experience is saved in some indexed and searchable manner. The reason this idea and wanting to have been born later coincide is because I could have started 'archiving' things earlier. I have all of my e-mail going back to mid-1998 (I didn't get this obsessive, digital-packrat mentality until around that time, else I would have e-mail all the way back to ~93) and take digital pictures (and some video) of just about everything. Anything I've ever created or worked on is saved and dated. The MyLifeBits project extends this idea to cover much more — in fact, there isn't too much that it wouldn't save. Gordon Bell, the leader of the project, says, "I like to think of it as an accurate surrogate brain." I realize this idea won't sit well with those less-eccentric types, but as it happens, I'm all about it. I think it is neat, if for no other reason, than to be able to show your kids your entire life and how you've developed into the person they're now familiar with. I don't know, the whole idea really excites me. There are obviously a lot of pieces missing from the puzzle. Most notably, we need a way to centralize the saving of 'everything' we do and to do it within some database that supports a self-descriptive data format (XML comes to mind) so as to be able to keep up with the technological advancements that will always dictate how we interact with the data (i.e., always being able to convert the data to the 'now' format so that it will be accessible).

I don't think we are too far off from being able to mess around with this. In fact, to a much lesser extent, I feel I've been doing this for years. Currently, I have ~800 CDs of digital information. As far as searchability is concerned, most everything (what's on each cd) is cataloged in a database, but the data itself obviously isn't. I'm certainly not going to attempt this until I have to move all of my cds to some other media (I think I'll wait for the successor of recordable DVD). Even then, you will have to span databases across multiple media, unless, of course, you just wait for multi-TB hard drives to come out as the MyLifeBits project suggests. But this approach is flawed in my opinion as 1.) it doesn't easily lend itself to backups and 2.) you are storing EVERYTHING on one piece of equipment (not too safe). OK, before I get carried away with this, I guess the point I'm trying to make is that this concept, in and of itself, is not necessarily new, but the ability to do what the MyLifeBits project is attempting is certainly new, and in my humble opinion, very exciting. I plan to follow this thing pretty closely. Happy archiving.

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