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MIT Technology Review

Technologists Won’t Give Up on the Dream of Memory Augmentation

New app tries to organize photos, locations, and people in an irresistibly searchable way.

September 9, 2016

What were you doing exactly a month ago? How about three years ago? “Lifelogging,” the effort by some technorati to record every moment of their lives, may have met resistance, but a new app called Fabric promises to make it relevant again.

The app, available for iOS and Android, connects with your GPS, camera roll, Facebook, and Instagram to log where you visit and the photos you take. You can browse the resulting catalog by time, place, or people.

“So much of our lives are just lost because we can’t write them down,” Fabric cofounder Arun Vijayvergiya says. “What we’re trying to build is an index of time.”

By connecting the Fabric app with your photos, social platforms, and GPS system, you can find out what you did on any given day.

It asks a lot for a new app. After downloading Fabric, I connected my social media accounts so it could pull in old photographs and places. I let it start tracking my every move, even when the app is not open. Eventually, I could search through years of my life by tapping on the names of cities or friends. There’s also a map view and a timeline to quickly jump through space or time. After I walked to Walgreens, the app presented my day as a line between my house and the store, plus one photograph I took along the way.

Fabric is currently free to use, and its founders don’t have any immediate plans for monetization. But Vijayvergiya sees a future where the data it collects could be used to make technology smarter; a smart car could learn how to drive a person home, or a virtual assistant like Siri could alert users that they haven’t scheduled a meeting with an important colleague in weeks.

Before cofounding fabric, Vijayvergiya was an engineer at Facebook, working on an early version of the Facebook timeline, plus nostalgia projects like “On this Day” and “Year in Review.” He believes social media is growing more specialized, and Fabric offers a way for people to pull up a very specific moment and jog their memory enough to place it in context. The easiest way to do that is to tell people where they were and the people they were with, Vijayvergiya says.

Fabric isn’t about sharing your photographs and memories with friends. Instead, it’s akin to those daily roundup albums you might have seen pop up at the top of your Facebook feed—an automated gathering and presenting of a memory, but a bit more intelligent. It’s a natural fit for people who already use social media to store their memories but would like to take some of the manual work out of the process—or add a bit more privacy.

“In my opinion, lifelogging is just a poor name for what it could be,” Vijayvergiya says. “The logging aspect is necessary, but not the thing most people want to spend time on. It’s being able to analyze this data as it logs itself automatically that brings the concept to life.”

The next question is whether individuals and society will actually find value in automatic logging, according to Gillian Hayes, a University of California, Irvine, professor who studies human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing. Modern tools like fitness and sleep trackers quantify our lives in easy-to-digest ways, but many people still don’t care to integrate them into their lifestyle.

Hayes says tracking our lives can help people learn about themselves and change behaviors to match their goals. Writing down what we eat has been shown to lead to healthier diets, for example.

“We need to find the right balance between automatic and intentional recording and reflection,” Hayes says. “I don’t know what that right balance is, but apps like Fabric will give us plenty of opportunity to find out.”