Grandma Was A Lifelogger
social life & social media
When Kitty stumbled upon her grandmother’s diaries and started to explore the daily entries, she was struck by similarities with her own life and habits. Kitty is a modern-day lifelogger. She tracks places, events, mood – a variety of different personal data streams. Reading the diaries, Kitty saw that her grandmother used her daily entries as logs – tracking the details of where she went, what she ate, even the boys she kissed. In this talk, Kitty shares what she discovered, and the lessons she learned.
phone | Saga
My grandma Pat did 30 years ago. I lived with her while she was dying with cancer and I went with her for her treatment. I helped her choose a wig. She was 57 years old when she died and I just turned 12, until then, she has been my primary parent.
I recently unearthed the diary of hers from 1942. She kept diaries her whole life, but this one was from the year she turned 16. So since I am a lifelong and I work on a life logging app, I thought it would be interesting to go through and see what kind of data grandma tracked when she was a teenager.
In 1942, she lived with her mother and her older sister in Washington. It was a small logging town that was turned into a navy port during World War II, and her mom worked as a waitress in a local diner.
When I looked closely at her diary, I realised that it really reads like a lifelong. She recorded the sequences of events; I did this, and then I did this, and this was who I saw, this is what I ate. She also made lists of things like the outfits she wore and the boys she kissed.
So I went through and extracted whatever what quantifiable data I could find, and then I looked at my own data that I have been recording in recent years to see if there was any kind of pattern or similarity that would emerge.
Grandma didn’t track any particular thing every day, but she tracked a lot of things sporadically, from the weather, to where she went, what she ate, the time she went to bed, and what time she got up in the morning or the afternoon and her favorite songs. Mostly she tracked boys.
She mentions about two or three boys on average in every entry, and at the back of the diary there is this list of the 57 boys she kissed. The ones marked with an x are the ones that she necked with. So I counted mentions of boys over the course of 1942, and she does mention about 100 boys by name, but there is one that really stands out and his name is Zip.
By the end of 1942, she is hopelessly in love.
The Zip saga is troubled and romantic, after a very hot summer and parking on various bluffs things get kind of complicated and fade a little bit in the fall, so then he goes off to war and when they start writing letters to each other she falls even harder.
Boys weren’t grandma’s only weakness though, she mentions food in almost every entry and as you can see, she covers all of the basic food groups that were offered in diners in 1942, mostly pie and hamburgers and often an occasional beer.
She went to about three movies a week, and in her diary, she wrote down not only the title of the films, but all the cast members and which cast members she had a crush on, and she also mentioned these trashy true story magazines that she and her best friend like to read together.
She also kept track of everywhere she went, and she got around town quite a bit with all these boys in cars. She went to Jenny Soda Fountains, the skating rink, the bowling alley, the dance hall and included places in the national park way she took the boys.
So that you are looking at the data that is there and it’s really to overlook what isn’t, and I noticed in reading her diaries that she doesn’t really mention her mom and sister, except people that she ran into around town. She doesn’t mention a single meal evening at home and school is a kind of an afterthought for her.
So what we have is a young girl in a small western town during wartime who falls in love and with very little parental supervision. She eats her meals in diners and goes to movies and rides around in cars with lots of boys.
I realise that my life at 16 was surprisingly similar to my grandma life at 16. I didn’t hang out with quite that many boys, but I do ride around with my friends in cars, go to late-night diners and for me it was Bennies and Perkins, and I would stay out all night and I was with her mother who really wasn’t much of a parent.
Was this a coincidence, or was this some kind of family legacy playing itself out in grandma’s diary. I took a look at my own data that I track using all of these apps both passively and actively to see if there would be some kind of story that I could dig out of this.
So I have a confession, I am a terrible life logger. Unlike grandma I don’t sit down every night to record my day. I’ve used dozens of apps and tools, and I find even the days that I do log, getting on an app to record it is a kind of a chore.
So passive life logging apps like Saga work well for me, my iPhone records my life and Saga turns it into a detailed diary. I can go back and annotate later, but the basic storyline is there for me automatically.
So what I discovered from this passive data that I looked at is I never eat at home. Mint shows me that I spend an obscene amount of my income on food, and saga confirms that I spend most of my free time in restaurants and bars.
When I was a little kid my grandparents took me out to eat every Sunday. My grandma insisted one meal in a restaurant per week to kind of make up for all the rest of the meals that she had to fix for the rest of the week. A therapist once said to me that may be eating in restaurants could be how I learned to receive love.
Family legacies play themselves out in mysterious ways. My grandma’s father was mentally ill and wasn’t around when she was a girl. My dad wasn’t around when I was a girl, and her mom’s dad had died when she was young. So my grandma had her first baby, my mom when she was 22 years old. My mom had me when she was 22, and my dad was out of the picture. By the time I was two.
So what we have is a lot of young women without male figures in their lives, and some of them end up kissing 57 boys.
Grandma wore dark lipstick which she blotted and powdered in two layers just like her mom. The idea that a woman’s value lies in her attractiveness to men is deeply rooted in my family. I found 23, tubes of lipstick in my apartment and I am pretty sure there are more. I usually find three or four tubes every time when I clean out a bag. My lipstick collection isn’t just some strange compulsion; it’s actually part of a family legacy.
Grandma didn’t intend to have three children by the time she was 22 years old, but her drive for male attention and the fact the not easy access to birth control, she ended up on a roll that she resented and that was a housewife.
I’m actually living the life now, at 41 years old that grandma expected to live when she was 16. I live in a city, I have a career, I travel the world with or without men. In a way my life log could be an extension of her diary some 70 years later.
Life logs tell stories now in more detailed than ever before. These little bits of data it collects them to rich narratives. Details make up stories and stories make up lives.
I was asleep in the next room the night grandma died in 1983. Her heart gave out before the cancer had finished its work. I was able to share a custer with her and kissed her good night for the last time. I miss her, but reading this diary has given me a little more time with her.
My life log is even more detailed than my grandmas, but I don’t write it down. So what is going to happen to all of this data that I have collected and create? Will it be decipherable in 70 years? Will my story persist or fade into obscurity and does that matter?