The rise and fall (and rise?) of lifelogging

I was talking to someone the other day about the concept of lifelogging. This isn’t that unusual; I keep strange company. Oddly enough though, the term had popped into my head just the morning before – as these sorts of things often do, when one least expects it. I had quickly jotted it down as I realised I wanted to consider it further, and I was bound to forget about it again.

I knew I was bound to forget about it as I realised I hadn’t thought of the term for many months. Possibly even years. It’s not a thing that has occurred to me in ages. And I think I know why.

Lifelogging, in certain examples, was the term applied to clipping a semi-autonomous gadget to oneself that records audio/video/images at intervals which are then indexed and searchable. A sort of memory extension. There were a few examples of this product, including the Memoto in c.2012, and more recently the Google Clip.

More generally, lifelogging was the term applied to deliberately recording stuff like one’s step count, photos taken, and various other metadata, usually on a huge scale. The problem, it seems to me, was always making sense of that data. Not a problem, of course – better to amass the data first and analyse it later. Or, form a startup, amass the data, then fold and delete the data.

Anyway, as soon as the term reappeared in my consciousness, I assumed it had faded out of common use, and Google Trends implies the same:


Interestingly, the term ‘quantified self’ – which always seemed to me the colder, spikier, more tech-y, less warm, fuzzy, and human of the two terms – shows a similar curve in Google Trends, but was apparently more commonly used. It also appears to have emerged ever so slightly later than lifelogging did. But they both share the same rise and fall in usage, according to Google:


And I guess I know why: lifelogging is something most of us do now, almost by default. I’m guessing the peaks above are the tipping point where ‘most’ people’s smartphones did all this stuff for us without needing to really consider it.

Our smartphones log our location data – usually by default – all the photos we take are backed up and indexed surprisingly well using AI to guess the content, and using EXIF tags to log the location. And most smartphones seem to include some sort of health recording, even if just step count – with some folks using devices like a Fitbit or Apple Watch to record such data more deliberately.

I think what I’m trying to say is that we’re probably doing more lifelogging than ever – we’re just not calling it that any more.