Tracking Across Generations
Since the day Aaron Yih was born, his grandfather documented his life in large photo collages he hung on the walls. Now that his grandfather is 84, Aaron is using digital archiving and modern lifelogging tools to continue the record that his grandfather began over two decades ago.
eternalist | Smart Glasses
Tracking Across Generations
My name is Aaron Yih. I’m a design student at UCLA and I have a fascination with documenting my life.
So it all started with this guy. He’s my Grandpa, and from the day I was born he was documenting my life. He started taking all these photos and he would assemble them into a big collage that he would put up on the walls in his house. So they were like three feet by five feet. So pretty much like every square inch of the house was like covered with these photos.
And they were great because we would sit around the dinner table and, and we would talk about the great time we shared, and we would reminisce on the past, and it was just this really good way to like connect with family.
He would even document some of our trips. So this is our trip across the country that we did together, and you can kind of see the detail of like the food we ate and where we went, and who we met. So it was like all these things you probably wouldn’t remember in such detail that are out on display for you when you’re like with family. So it was just great.
More recently, we went on a road trip up to Oregon, up to see the total solar eclipse. That was last year, and on the last day of that trip, he said, well I hope you have a beautiful life. And it was this bittersweet moment because he was acknowledging that he wasn't going to be there forever, even although he was like one of my greatest companions.
And when I thought back on his life, I really thought about like just how beautiful his life really was. And at that instant that I knew sort of who my guiding principle would be. It would be to live this beautiful life.
And so I sort of took it upon myself to continue what he started with, in the first two decades of my life documenting and take it sort of into this generation. So I started recording of every second of every day with these camera glasses. And like everything. So like when I’m eating, when I’m hanging out with friends, when I went on hikes, I ended up generating around 40 to 60 gigabytes of data a day. And that turned out to be around four terabytes.
But fortunately, since I'm a student I have unlimited free storage on Google drive.
I also uploaded to Google photos and my external hard drive, but yeah, it was a lot. And I had to run a cable from the glasses to my external battery that I held in my pocket, so there was always like this cable would see, and yeah, so it was kind of crazy.
But I got the glasses from AliExpress. They were only about 80 bucks, which I thought was like pretty like reasonable until I learned that I had to pretty much had to replace them every month because they just like kept breaking. So like one part would break and then the next time, the next part would break. And then the SD card was only 32 gig, which was pretty big but like it only lasted for like six hours. So I had to modify it so I could add a second SD card and like record for 12 hours in a day, so which meant I had to take it apart and in the middle of the day I would have to like take it out and put the new one in. and so it was just like creating all this wear on the device that it wasn’t really designed for. So they worked okay, but ultimately not well enough for what I wanted to do.
The first thing that I learned from this experiment was really that my laugh is super embarrassing. Like I never realized this, but when you record everything, you see yourself very objectively. Like you look at yourself in the way that other people would look at you, and you don’t have this emotional filter of like how your brain kind of like transforms your experience. So that was kind of humbling and also like very self-aware which is I think unique.
The second takeaway really was that I don’t think the benefits of doing this really outweigh the costs yet, but I think it’s getting sort of close. The technology is way too cumbersome. Again like replacing all the parts and like talking to support all the time was not really fun, but you can see a lot of progress made in like retrieval. So like even though I stored everything by day, it was still really hard and go back and find the data. But using Google Photos was great because they’re already processing the videos, so I can search those by keywords.
So, for instance, I can search Italian food in Google Photos and it will like take me back to all the times I was eating Italian food during those four months which was pretty cool. It also sorts by people, so I can, if I can remember who I was with I can like go back and re-watch times that I spent with those people.
A surprising thing was that people were not concerned about security, at least in my experience. They would ask me, ‘oh are you recording me?’ and I would tell them yes. I'm recording video and audio, and I have been like for the last three months. And they kind of felt like okay with it. And like usually people wouldn't ask me to turn it off or anything. There are only three times in four months that people like really said like you have to either leave or turn it off, and generally, it was like tolerable surprisingly. I think that has to do with like the way that our generation is brought up, and like we're just more comfortable with being recorded all the time and having our data out there. I'm not sure.
So finally, well kind of penultimately, the glasses I felt like really allowed me to live more presently because I wasn't taking my phone out all the time to take photos. I had like this peace of mind that everything was being recorded all the time. So I didn’t feel the need to like distract myself from the present. I was really engaged with people, and like I didn’t have any anxiety about losing moments, which I kind of do have which probably not everyone has, but yeah.
So the biggest takeaway I would say from this experiment was that even though, probably about 99.5 percent of my time is super boring, uninteresting. Like I’m on the computer. I’m eating or whatever. But there’s this small point five percent that really makes everything else worth it.
So here’s a silent clip from one of these dinners that I was having with my grandparents and my dad. And it’s kind of weird and unique because it’s so like genuine and raw. Like you never see like content like this, but this is something that would have been gone forever or at least only held in my memory if I wasn’t recording everything.
And so I like to think that I’m sort of continuing my grandpa’s experiment, the first two decades of my life and bringing it into this generation, which is why I’m working on this project called Eternalist, that really allows you to bring context to all of your data. So when you have a video like this and you bring it in with your Spotify data, your Google calendar data, and your Fitbit data it kind of paints a picture of your life. A story that’s stored. And it allows you to really retrieve data and get meaning from your data that wasn’t possible before.
So thank you.