Life caching

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has a piece on "life caching", poorly-naming the trend for collecting and displaying personal media items: blogging, photos from cameras, online photo albums, iPods. Matt "Brian Hacks" Webb disagrees that this is a trend, saying that we've always collected things and this current phase is just a temporary manifestation of the obsession.

As ever, Matt has a point, primarily because Trendwatching, with its focus on "new business ideas" concentrates on the least important facet of this trend. Collecting isn't new but it does mean the site can use two pictures of iPods, the gadget any lifestyle-tech article is naked without. If we move on from the iPod's mere old-fashioned hoarding, the article gives us a clue as to what really matters when it describes "collecting, storing and displaying one's entire life".

Collecting is one thing, but "displaying" is half-way to another. Displaying is like speaking, and that's only of use when there's someone around to listen. Get more people speaking and the conversations begin, and this, the exchange of whatever it is you're collecting, or "caching", is what matters. Accumulate photos, words and songs all you like (and sell gadgets to hoard them, be my guest), but when people begin to exchange these, to riff off each other, to have a conversation... what happens then? What happens when everyone's doing more than collecting, and begins sharing? That's the trend we should be looking at.

When I go out with a particularly connected bunch of friends (in the digital rather than influential sense) we can all share each others' memories of the day shortly after. We often post photos online or write about the event; see the links at the bottom of this page for an example. If this behaviour became more mainstream, more normal, how would that affect group dynamics? Or peoples' memories of events? Or how people behave when out with friends and family?

These days I can barely keep up with reading the weblogs written by people I know, never mind those of strangers. If most people you know are "displaying" writing, photos, etc. about themselves on an almost daily basis, referring back to each others' displays, how does that affect your relationship to them? How does this ongoing virtual conversation affect group dynamics? How does it affect the size and coherence of your social network? How does it affect what you do and say in real life?

All this is interesting social food for thought, but there's more. Perhaps the most obvious question the Trendwatching article ignores in its flurry of gadgets is: What happens to privacy? If everyone is collecting and displaying their favourite music, photos from their phone, personal and professional thoughts, how much privacy do they have?

Anyone who has been blogging for some time has probably adjusted how they present themselves, becoming aware that they are creating a public persona over which they need to exercise control. When a work colleague you barely know remarks on the photos you took of a drunken stag party at the weekend, or asks you if you're feeling happier since you wrote about feeling depressed, the distinction between public and private, and how you've been ignoring it, becomes an issue. Add in that this stuff could be hanging around online for years or decades after you "display" it, add in that kids will be sharing their photos and thoughts, and things become even more interesting.

Unfortunately I barely have time right now to blurt out these questions, never mind search for the answers. My point, though, is that while it's fair enough to identify this trend, and get excited over the gadgets, by ignoring the consequences of the trend you're ignoring the most interesting questions.

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2 Comments

Good points. However, check out our COUNTER GOOGLING trend (www.trendwatching.com/trends/archives.html), which deals with some of the privacy aspects of LIFE CACHING.COM. Regarding the sharing: that's part II of the trend, which we'll cover in the next trend update (as we stated, we wanted to introduce the concept first, with the updates looking at sharing, at TWIN CONSUMERS, at the links between GENERATION C and LIFE CACHING. So stay tuned, though comments much appreciated in the mean time!
Reinier

The privacy issue in online social networks such as Orkut.com has raised some concerns for certain people. Well, in my view, privacy is a loose issue. Some people are very much restrictive about their personal life and their network of firends as well as about their business and other interests. While for others it may seem just a funny experience to be open about the privacy thing. There are, of course, a couple of pros and cons concerning our attitude towards privacy. Those who are open may put at risk some information about their personal life that could be misused by vandals. On the other hand, when you increase the level of information security you may well lose the potential benefits of networking which has an exponential rate of growth. Nonetheless, the final choice fall on individuals whose behavior is affected by their culture, values, and attitude towards risk. And I think people should choose their way not in an "aura of panic".

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