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Lifelogging: developing my self-obsession one data point at a time
When you're too busy tracking your life 📈, you may forget to actually live it
The first time I took an airplane flight was to pick strawberries 🍓 in Norway in the summer of 2008 . It was the Scandinavian Airlines flight SK4799, departing from Krakow at 10:25 AM and heading for Oslo. If I know this very precisely after 15 years, it’s because I have this flight, and every single flight I took since that day, logged in an app.
My flights are in flightradar, books read in Goodreads, movies watched in letterboxd, workouts in Strava. Reading notes are everywhere (book margins, Logseq, loose pieces of paper, Google Docs). Confused morning thoughts are in a paper journal.
The quantified self
This habit of tracking life activities is called lifelogging. The premise is that we collect data about ourselves, so that we can extract useful insights from it: How do I spend my time? What types of books I like? How is my running stamina changing over time?
Ideally, we use these insights to improve something: find new ways to manage time, get better book recommendations, etc. This part is where the idea meets reality.
The reality check
After logging 1K+ of various events, I found three issues with all that tracking:
it’s tedious. Any logging that requires a manual step ends up feeling like a chore, no matter how small the friction is.
it’s self-obsessed. Each tracking ritual feeds on and fuels the idea that the little activities of my life are so important they deserve to be recorded for posterity or analysed for insights.
it’s futile. Just like I rarely look at the countless photos I take on my smartphone, I almost never use the logged data for anything other than pure vanity – looking at the list of books I read as a little trophy of the mind.
At its worst, lifelogging feels like building altars of personal vanity. Can it be satisfying? Yes. Is it a healthy habit? I’m not sure. When logging becomes a vanity project or a chore, it sucks out the energy and time we could use to do something more worthwhile.
Changing the premise
The core issue is in the idea of collecting data for “future use”. This turns us into hoarders with infinite storage space: we can track anything, so we do, amassing impressive collection of data points without a sense for what it would be useful for.
The saving grace of lifelogging is finding the activities where the act of logging itself can be valuable. This way the habit is worthwhile no matter what happens with the data later. For me it’s journaling on paper. I don’t journal because I want to review those notes later. I do it because the process of organizing my thoughts in writing helps me clear my mind and almost always boosts my mood.
What are your lifelogging habits and what if anything you’d change? Drop a comment below :).
Postcard from Paris
Cinema Paradiso is a free movie festival screening films in the courtyard of the Louvre. Great setting to discover Fellini’s 🎞️ 8½. After watching the movie, I diligently logged it in letterboxd… 📝
Have a great week 💫,