Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 13:08 UK

A life recorded in bits and bytes

Digital Planet
Dave Lee
BBC World Service

A stack of papers
Gordon Bell has just published a book called Total Recall on his digital project

Gordon Bell never forgets.

That's because, since 1998, he has been working on archiving his entire life.

That includes everything he has accumulated, written, photographed, presented, and owned.

Bell, a principle researcher at Microsoft Research, has now written a book about how in the future we may all be able to offload our own memory into a comprehensive e-memory.

His life is kept in a database for a project called MyLifeBits.

Bits 'n' bobs

In an interview with the BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme, Mr Bell explained the motivation behind his unique and intriguing work.

"We started out to see just how much information one had coming through their life," he said.

"I have a reasonably complicated life - so I wanted to find out just how many bits were coming and going, and how to deal with it."

All computer users tend to archive some parts of their life, whether it's an e-mail, a written document or a photograph.

With the increasing popularity of the cloud - the name given to information stored in the online space - people are beginning to archive even more their lives.

Mr Bell, however, has taken it one step further - even scanning in till receipts.

"Overall I think there are maybe a million items all together," he said.

He estimates that he has archived around 150,000 images, along with a similar number of emails and web pages.

A laptop
Making digital memories is becoming cheaper and cheaper

"The other half million are scans of books and things that I have".

He said that the time is right for people to take e-memories seriously.

"I scan all the paper that comes into my life. I went paperless in 2002.

"You never delete anything.

"I wouldn't have said this 20 years ago because of the difficulty and the cost to do it. The opportunity now is: it doesn't cost anything to do this."

For Mr Bell the benefit of his experiment is simple: it makes him feel better.

"I get enormous amount of comfort," he said.

"You basically have a great sense of freedom, because you are able to offload your bio-memory, and just commit all of the facts to an e-memory."

Digital Planet is broadcast on BBC World Service on Tuesday at 1232 GMT and repeated at 1632 GMT, 2032 GMT and on Wednesday at 0032 GMT.

You can listen online or download the podcast .



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