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The Life Logging Thing

A while back I read a couple of paragraphs somewhere on life logging and an app called Saga. Then I forgot completely about it. I’ve even forgot what directed me to the idea again, I’ve downloaded the Saga Android App and began an experiment in life logging.

It’s probably worth getting something straight first: I realise this is a bit strange and my life is nowhere near exciting enough to make it worth logging all the time. I do like playing around with Apps occasionally, especially ones that take advantage of the various technologies on your mobile phone. I’ve been experimenting with Saga since last Sunday.

But, what is its thing?

Saga uses the GPS in your phone and connections to other Apps to create a life log. Sounds exciting, but it’s potentially more mundane, especially since you’re probably already giving a narrative to these things through Facebook and Twitter anyway. It does its best to log when you’re travelling and the places you visit. It then learns about you, which hopefully makes the logging more accurate, and starts to record stats and tag you with traits. As an example, it needs to recognise your home and place of work relatively early on due to most of us spending the majority of our time in either of these locations.

You can connect Saga to other Apps, and I suspect the success of the App will be these connections. At the moment I’ve got it linked to Facebook and Twitter so it can merge updates to these Apps into the recorded timeline. Goodreads so it can pull in my updates on the books I have read. I’ve also integrated Pinterest, but I’ve not used this much. There is a range of other Apps you can integrate with it from Foursquare, through various fitness Apps to Last.fm to link in the music you are scrobbling. I suspect the more data the better.

It’s been a strange process so far, as it’s been both very accurate and inaccurate. Saga seems to log travel times really well. It accurately logs car journeys and walks to and from the office to the supermarket, etc. It has a harder time with places. It suggests you can just ignore it and it logs up a picture of your life but it doesn’t really do this unless you effectively check-in. At least it doesn’t do it yet. As an example, I walked to the supermarket and back to the office and it recorded it all as travel time. It will log the time at the supermarket if I check-in. It doesn’t seem to then automatically recognise that place again. Once it knows a place it will accurately identify it as your now location, but so far it’s done this through me pulling up the App. I need to experiment by leaving it just logging without interacting for ages across multiple known locations to see how well it does.

The weirdest thing about the Saga is it can log things completely correctly but a day or so later it changes it to be incorrect! It’ll get a journey correct and a period of time at a place and then 24 or so hours later the stay at the place will have shrunk and the hours consumed by the journey will have radically increased. This is a bit annoying as you then you have to make it correct guessing some of the timings it had gotten correct first time. This sort of defeats the point of the App. I have no idea why it does this. It must being reviewing the data and making different decisions.

It’s early days in terms of traits and statistic, but I am interesting in seeing what it comes up with for these things. I am assuming I’ll get a full set of stats once I’ve used it for a week. I’m specifically interested in what traits it’s going to be able to divine on what is a relatively mundane and normal life in GPS terms.

The biggest conundrum with Saga is it seems it’s exactly when your life is potentially at its most mundane that you are likely to use it. If you go gallivanting abroad to all sorts of wonderful and exciting places you have to jump through hoops to keep your mobile data, for instance. Also, Saga can only be used in a very limited set of countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. I’m guessing the EU, by and large, is being an epic fun sponge due to privacy laws. It seems you’ll have a gap in your life log just as things had got interesting.

The other wrinkle is Saga shifts the dynamic a bit in relation to other platforms like Facebook and Twitter. There is a certain element of narrative going on with these platforms. It’s not that you lie, but you do tend to frame and contextualise. Saga doesn’t really do this it’s more focused on facts. Often quite mundane facts. As an example, I did three 11-hour work days last week? I know that happens but it was still a bit of an eyebrow raiser to see as a fact on the screen.

I’m still finding the experiment interesting enough to continue. I’m not entirely sure it’s something I’ll keep going with long-term as after a month of it I’m pretty sure it will just be recording similar stats every week and a horrible, depressing similar sequence of events. Apparently, people life log to get all ‘big data’ on their lives to discover patterns of behaviour so they can change them. Improve their life. Eat more vegetables. Spend more time with the family. Read more books. I’m not convinced I need some form of empirical data to make me aware of some of these facts (assuming Saga would even reveal some of them).

I understand you can download your data and crunch it with serious software. I guess some people take it very seriously.

About Ian O'Rourke

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