This video is an example of a SoundTrack that we can create for clients based on their musical histories. This one happens to be mine and it based on around 120 albums and singles that have meant the most to me at different stages of my life. Every entry has a little anecdote to go with it, but only a couple of these are shown in the video.
If you’ve ever done family history research or just watched “Who Do You Think You Are” on the BBC, you’ll be aware of how time shrouds our knowledge of those who’ve gone before us. Faced with this simple fact, it’s surprising that so few people make a concerted effort to document their own life story for future generations.
Except that when you think about it, it’s not a trivial task. How do you pull together everything you’ve done in your life; where you’ve been, the people that you know, the work that you’ve done, what you’ve achieved; and of all the photos, videos, letters, audio recordings, anecdotes, Facebook posts or WhatsApp chats that together encapsulate your life? There are companies that will write your biography for you, and that’s better than nothing for sure, but in this digital age, printed media is hardly likely to be the answer.
At LifeStories International we developed software to collate all of your media and present it in a coherent LifeStory that runs on its own dedicated iPad or iPhone. We work with high net worth clients to record their own LifeStories based on face-to-face conversations and whatever media they would like to include.
When you do this, you find that leaving a record for posterity is not the only advantage of a LifeStory. In fact, there are two much more immediate benefits. The first is the ability to carry your LifeStory with you at all times. There are few better pick-me-ups than the ability to drop into all of your favourite memories and relive the great times that you had. Having a tough day? Here’s an anecdote you recorded of the day when you closed a huge deal, or here’s a video of your children as toddlers. It’s called episodic memory and its a guaranteed tonic.
You also get the extra benefit of a fantastic tool for fending off memory loss as you get older. Medical professionals regularly identify the creation of a life story as one of the main tools in the battle against dementia.
None of us like to think about our own death, but we plan what we’re doing to do with our estate after we die. Perhaps it’s time to plan what we’re going to do with our memories.
We’re a week away from the big day, and most people will be celebrating with family and friends. This Christmas, take advantage of having these people with you by recording a 360° video for posterity. Take my word for it, it’s probably the most immersive way of recording an event. I bought myself a small LG 360 camera a few years ago and used it to record a few clips between courses while we were sitting around the dinner table.
These cameras have lenses on front and back and record a true 360° view with no blind spots. You can upload these videos to Facebook which allows you to rotate around any part of the view. We’re currently enhancing our LifeStories software so that you can rotate the view as you rotate the iPad on which the LifeStory is running.
There is a range of these cameras on Amazon, but this one from Ricoh appears to be most popular.
You can set the camera up with your smartphone and place it in the middle of the table, and it will record everything that happens around you.
I know it sounds a bit geeky, but if you can get past that, you’ll thank me for it in 10 years time, when you’re looking at this really cool immersive video of how you were a decade ago.
(Just to be clear, I’m not earning a commission from Amazon).
A recent edition of the Robb Report summarised its best products for all of the well-established categories of luxury goods; watches, jewellery, aviation, automotive etc. The question I’m asking here is whether there should be a category for Digital?
You’d probably think the answer would be No, wouldn’t you? Well, I’m here to make the case for Yes, by looking at the characteristics of a luxury product and seeing whether it is possible to apply them to a digital product.
The first step though is for me to define what I mean by digital. I am referring to software and content stored in digital format. The software needs to run on something of course, and in our case, that’s an iPad typically, but the iPad itself is not the luxury product. It’s analogous to the beautiful box that your luxury watch is presented in.
The characteristics of a luxury product include price, exclusivity, quality, and history.
Luxury products are expensive. They have to be or it would be impossible to maintain the exclusivity that is also required. Pricing is one of the easiest luxury characteristics for a digital product to achieve, as pricing is established by the vendor.
Now things start to get harder. In this age of peer-to-peer file sharing, where even companies like Microsoft can’t prevent piracy of their products, maintaining the exclusivity of anything digital is a challenge. There is a solution however, and that is to uniquely tie the digital product to the hardware it runs on. In most cases that would be impractical, but when exclusivity is your goal, it’s not a bad thing. As an example, the LifeStories we create are uniquely tied to the devices they run on.
Furthermore, if there are a very limited number of vendors offering the digital product, that also increases the level of exclusivity. If you then add in that the product is heavily tailored to the individual needs of the client, then the Exclusivity requirement can clearly be satisfied.
Quality is a little more of an abstract concept to measure against. In the case of a luxury product, quality can mean the level of workmanship, but it can also mean the level of service provided throughout the relationship between vendor and client. Both of these elements can be satisfied with a digital product.
The artisans who were the founders of today’s most popular brands were craftsmen who had spent a lifetime learning their trade. Is it too hard to believe that there are digital artisans who have done the same? These are people who have spent decades writing software and dealing with media in all of its digital formats.
Providing the quality service that characterises luxury between an artisan and a client is a mindset. It does not matter whether the product is physical or digital.
And so we come to the crux of the debate. Louis Vuitton, est 1854; Audemars Piguet, est 1875; Rolls-Royce, est 1906. Luxury brands usually come with a heritage, and it is the heritage that is a major part of the attraction. For most digital products, a lack of history is the one characteristic that disqualifies them from being classified as a luxury unless they rely heavily on the heritage of their maker. A digital Rolex is a luxury product, but that’s because it’s a Rolex, not because it’s digital.
But just think for a moment about what “heritage” really means. It’s about things that have a historical basis that still have relevance today. It’s about belonging and tradition. We can look back on 100 years of a luxury brand and see all of its milestones.
Instead of looking back, what if you could look forward and see 100 years of milestones? What if the company that creates your digital product today could lay out for you its plans on how it was going to evolve for the next century and could convince you that longevity is its raison d’être? In that case maybe simply using history as a measurement of luxury is too narrow. Perhaps we should be using time, regardless of direction.
As I set out in another post, longevity is a crucial part of the vision here at LifeStories International. With it, I believe that we can satisfy the time element of luxury.
So in the vast majority of cases, you’d find it very difficult to argue that a digital product is a luxury product, but there are some cases where I believe that it holds true.
Did you know that neuroscientists classify our memories into two different types? Procedural memory is for the things we do without conscious thought like eating, driving or riding a bike. Declarative memory is the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information and previous experiences. One of the main sub-categories of declarative memory is episodic memory, which is the memory of autobiographical events.
Episodic memories are important to our well-being. When we’re feeling low and in need of an emotional lift, it’s comforting to look back on some happy event in the past and share in that past feeling of happiness. However, as we get older the past gets bigger and it can be difficult to remember the details of an event in quite the way that we used to.
As you might expect, scientists have studied episodic memory extensively:
Episodic memories are consciously recollected memories related to personally experienced events. Episodic remembering is a dynamic process that draws upon mnemonic and nonmnemonic cognitive abilities in order to mentally reconstruct past experiences from retrieval cues.
Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, 2009
The key to success is the retrieval cues. Having something that we can use as a trigger to better remember a past event makes a huge difference to our episodic memories. So what are our retrieval cues in the modern world? Photographs are one of the more obvious triggers, but for many people, this means a collection of albums or assorted prints stored in an attic. Video is also a possibility, but older videos will be stored on tape and playing them back may not be a trivial exercise. Any old audio recordings will have the same problems.
When we reach the digital age, the problems are arguably worse. Chat conversations can beautifully encapsulate the contributions and feelings of multiple people, but how do you access them unless you go to the trouble of backing them up?
The reality is that retrieval cues might be vital, but they are scattered across a range of media and access formats, which is why I created the LifeStory of course.
Given that I developed the concept and the prototype, it was natural that I would use my own LifeStory as a test case. I was surprised to find that I needed to draw from lots of different places, including
- Family photographs, scanned digitally
- Videos I took of my family over a 20 year period
- Scanned documents from my school years
- Audio recordings of my grandparents
- Audio recordings of me playing guitar
- Recollections of my career
- Recollections of places I visited
- WhatsApp conversations between myself and my family
- SMS Text conversations
- A few Facebook posts
- Pinterest boards with my favourite movies and music
All of these things now exist in one place and are accessible at any time. While I have an iPad version, I also created a version for my iPhone, so no matter where I am I can quickly bring a smile to my face by dipping into one of the many memories that are stored there.
If you’ve ever researched your family tree, you’ve probably been able to trace your ancestors back several generations. You’ve probably also found that the further back you go, the less you know about the people that you find. In as little as a couple of generations, the past becomes shrouded.
In generations to come, how will you be remembered? Will it be the snatches of anecdotes passed on by relatives, or will you leave a detailed and coherent portrait of the way you want to be remembered?
We leave our digital imprint in many places, but this scattering of information will do little to help future generations build a picture of us, even if the information lasted long enough to be researched.
And the reality is, it’s not likely that the data will last very long. It needs a concerted effort to retain and repurpose it. There are three problems to overcome; human intervention, technological change, and information decay.
There have been many examples in the last 100 years of how information and media that should have been stored for posterity has been lost as a result of financial pressure, accidents and a lack of understanding of its long term significance.
In 1948, Universal Studios destroyed most of the 5,000 films it produced during the silent era. In fact, across all studios, it is thought that less than 25% of silent movies survive. People often fail to see the historical value of objects when making key financial decisions.
The companies that we store our data with today seem strong and prosperous, but over decades there are sure to be financial pressures to reduce costs. As data becomes older and less relevant or if a company comes under financial pressure it is likely that they will cease maintenance of older data. Twenty years ago you may have uploaded extensive amounts of data to MySpace. It was the forerunner of today’s social media and gave the impression of longevity in the same way that Facebook does today, but it recently confessed it had lost all of its data for the period prior to 2013.
In these cases, the data was lost because someone had to make a decision and the value of the data was just not valuable enough for them to justify maintaining it.
The last fifty years have seen huge changes in the way that we store information. So much has gone digital, and technology changes very quickly and data needs to move with it.
For generations to come, the way that we record, compress, store and playback data is also sure to change radically.
Audio, video and still images are all compressed using common formats. In 50 years those formats will be archaic and will have been replaced with more modern techniques. It is therefore vital to ensure that content is upgraded as storage is upgraded. It will take a commitment to migrate data to new formats to ensure that information remains accessible.
There are several problems that affect the long-term storage of digital information.
Modern storage media is prone to decay over an extended period of time. If you’ve had a computer for many years, you’ll probably know how often hardware failures occur and that data can be lost.
How fast the data is lost depends on how it is stored. For complex systems like computer hard drives, the failures are relatively fast. Despite conservative manufacturer predictions, the majority of hard drives used for data storage will fail within 15-20 years.
Disk-based storage like CD/DVD and Blu-Ray is harder to estimate as manufacturers have done little testing. However, an accelerated aging analysis by the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggested that the lifespan of disks could be in excess of 30 years when stored in optimal conditions. It is likely that magnetic tape storage will be equally durable under optimal conditions.
However, in terms of longevity, it is clear that all of these methods will result in potentially significant levels of data loss in less than 50 years. Whatever the media chosen, long-term survival of information needs a proactive approach to storage that includes redundancy and a commitment to move to new technologies.
At LifeStories we address all of these concerns for our clients. It is one of the many ways in which we are different from all other corporations. Our goal is not revenue, profit or shareholder value, it’s longevity. We’re building something that will last.
Although I originally came up with the concept of LifeStories based on the stories of real people, I quickly became aware that you can create a LifeStory based on a much wider range of subjects, including historical people, fictional characters, artists, bands, companies, products and events. Just about anything in fact.
One of the most interesting opportunities is where our clients are particular fans of something. We can create detailed LifeStories based on the client’s material (for their personal use).
I recently created a fully-functional prototype of one of these LifeStories based on my son’s collection of Harry Potter material.
We happen to own the Blu-Ray boxset, the audiobooks and the books. I find it annoying to have to deal with these different formats on different devices. In particular, disk-based content is pretty archaic, so a LifeStory is a great solution. It handles multiple media types and is expandable to add in additional information. Most importantly, it brings everything together in one place.
In most countries, it is illegal to copy audio and video material for personal use. I totally support this law where there is danger of financial loss to the copyright holder by distribution and piracy of their material. However, if I am 100% sure that there is no scope for financial loss I, and millions of people like me, find it to be draconian and ignore it, as I have for over 15 years since I ripped my first CD into iTunes.
If you have legitimately bought the material that you want us to include in your LifeStory, there should be no problem with including it. However, this does also depend on which country you’re in.
So, take a look at the gallery on the right. If you have a specialist subject like this that you’d like us to create a LifeStory for, please get in touch.
(If you don’t see a gallery, click the title of this post to open it in a new page)
Post by Phil John 13/11/19
The availability of the Internet in the mid-’90s transformed family history research as more and more records were digitized and put online. Websites like Ancestry.com provided subscribers with tools to research and catalog their family trees. People were able to make a connection to their past and had the ability to dig deeper and go back further.
This relatively sedate business was given a significant jolt when someone figured that you could use a DNA test to establish a person’s ethnicity. Suddenly, DNA test labs started popping up and all of the major family history websites took advantage to offer DNA testing services as a premium product offering.
The market for direct to consumer DNA testing is already worth over $1Bn and is still growing, but it’s a competitive business and naturally, customers and analysts are looking to see where the family history business is likely to develop next.
Perhaps the clues are right in front of us. Prior to DNA testing, family history research was mostly about the people you found in the past; the great, great grandmother who emigrated or the great uncle who fought in a major war. It was about peeling back the shroud of the past to see who you would find.
DNA testing has subtly shifted the focus. It’s no longer about the people we find, it’s more about finding out who am I?
Without most people realizing it, family history has become a lot more about personal history. If you accept this trend, then the question is what these more self-aware customers will want going forward?
We believe that the epiphany that family historians will come to recognize is that they are the ancestors of the people of the future. They are the people who will be shrouded and lost, unless they make a concerted effort to the contrary.
The solution to this problem is for people to document and preserve their life stories, pulling together the audio, video, photos, and social media interactions that highlight their lives. It’s a statement of “This is who I am, and this is how I want to be remembered”.
Once created, the LifeStory needs to be made accessible for generations to come, which of course is the greater challenge. How can you ensure that the LifeStory that you create today will still be accessible in 100 years?
It’s a challenge. There’s no mistaking that, but it’s a challenge that we’re meeting head-on, here at LifeStories. We’ve developed the tools to create LifeStories. Now we’re building the infrastructure to persist those LifeStories long into the future.
Follow us on Facebook as we build for the future @LifeStoriesInt.