Great Byte Hope: Visualizing Gordon Bell's Bits


I interviewed Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell for Wired's September issue. We chatted for several hours about his new book Total Recall and his project to capture and catalog much of his life in digital form.

From my story:

Since 2001, Bell has been compulsively scanning, capturing, and logging each and every bit of personal data he generates in his daily life. This trove includesWeb sites he's visited (221,173), photos taken (56,282), emails sent and received (156,041), docs written and read (18,883), phone conversations had (2,000), photos snapped by the SenseCam hanging around his neck (66,000), songs listened to (7,139), and videos taken by him (2,164). To collect all this information, he uses a staggering assortment of hardware: desktop scanner, digicam, heart rate monitor, voice recorder, GPS logger, pedometer, smartphone, e-reader...

After the disappearance and presumed death of a friend, computer scientist Jim Gray, Bell combed through thousands of files to find forgotten photos and stories he was then able to arrange into a powerful slide show for Gray's memorial.

Bell's data dump is more than just a glorified photo album. By using e-memory as a surrogate for meat-based memory, he argues, we free our minds to engage in more creativity, learning, and innovation (sort of like Getting Things Done without all those darn Post-its).

Even cooler, Wired hired illustrator Nicholas Felton to create the above graphic, which visualizes all of Bell's bits. Feltron, as he's called, is known for quantifying his own life into awesome-looking "annual reports."

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  1. It’s great that you shined some light on this man and his research. I have conceptualized a product called LifeGraphs that is financially focused and extends the distribution of n-dimensional design artifacts into the customer chain from the supply and value chains of business or commerce between governments, corporations and citizens. Do you think I can get Gordon’s ear to discuss this? Will you introduce me if you life the few documents I have on the WWW about LifeGraphs? I presented LifeGraphs to the Washington DC Chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery 11 Jun 2009,, and you can see & hear my 11 Dec 2008 Computer Sciences Corporation’s Leading Edge Forum Grant presentation on (just search “X3D LifeGraph”).

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