Just how many of our experiences does our memory keep and store? And how many of these slip away entirely unnoticed? Hong Kong-based developer Alan Kwan recorded an entire year of his life and archived it in a virtual gallery
Every step on the street, fleeting instants on the subway or life-changing encounters: The sheer wealth of moments, recollections and thoughts that make up a single life is truly mind-blowing. Our mind and memory holds our biography, our identity; our actions and experiences determine who we are.
In future, someone like Alan Kwan might transpose our memories to a virtual landscape. A graduate of Hong Kong‘s University School of Creative Media, the independent filmmaker began creating short films at the tender age of ten and now carves his own niche in the uncanny valley between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. His latest project, Bad Trip (see video above), saw Kwan spending a year walking around with a miniature camera attached to his glasses to record each and every moment of his waking day – and then upload these real-time memories to a self-designed virtual world overnight. Here, reproduced dreams and videos of real events perch in a dark and moody landscape; a monochromatic environment of ostensibly alive and growing mountain ranges, covered in dizzying steps that lead brave souls to faraway memories. After some practice, visitors to Kwan’s realm come to grips with the tricky controls and even manage to scale those stairs. Here, each home houses stacked audio-visual recordings of an entire day. Some of these residences are suspended in air and thus unreachable, but divulge an echo of their intrinsic memories once you pass their precarious setting.
With this ambitious set-up, Kwan’s Bad Trip becomes far more than a mere storage platform for life recordings or so-called lifelog. Back in 2011, when Kwan affixed an HD camera to his glasses, he had another idea: Analogous to the human mind’s way of storing memories, his Bad Trip landscape adds spatial coordinates to individual experiences. Incidentally, the resulting three-dimensional structure for archiving terms and memories is also the basis of mnemonic learning approaches like the loci method (Latin: locus = place): By positioning specific thoughts in space and creating spatial relationships between them, sequences and connections become easier to remember. In its daring set-up, however, Bad Trip moves beyond the idea of a complex memory palace: A joypad allows anyone so inclined to freely explore Kwan’s innermost experiences and his memories up close.
We spoke to the Hong Kong-based developer to find out more about this project – and any future developments.
Hi Alan, nice to meet you! Is your camera on and recording right now?
Yes, it is.
What prompted you to embark on the Bad Trip project? What were you expecting to discover?
I wanted Bad Trip to mirror my inner self; my intention was to explore my subconscious and make it available to myself and others. I found it important to ask some questions about why we do this and why we do that. And how we do it.
How do people around you react to the fact that you’re recording everything with your camera?
In the beginning, I was concerned that people might behave in a more pretentious way. But after three weeks, it all went back to normal. People got used to it quickly.
How did you come up with the idea of a three-dimensional landscape for memories?
I wanted to have a non-linear surface for memories, unlike YouTube. It was supposed to be closer to the way we store our memories in our heads, more spontaneous. Humans are striving for a stronger and more reliable memory system. It is essential for the accumulation of knowledge.
Do you think people will accept and use your technology?
I think so, yes.
What was your budget for the electronic equipment?
My lifelogging camera does not differ much from what’s already on the market. It is based on a cheap HD camera that I bought on ebay for $50. The video is stored on a 32GB SD card.
What will happen when the number of lifeloggers increases? Won’t it divide people into those who record everything and those who are recorded?
I think lifelogging will become the main direction of our society, but the most important thing is that there are rules to protect people’s lives. Throughout history, technology has always arrived first and then society found a way to adapt.
How are we going to do that?
We have to treat lifelogs as if these videos were our minds. As a result, we need to get used to the idea of digital thoughts.
What about your own memories?
Since I started the lifelogging project my memory has improved substantially. I remember more than ever. It is a tragedy – now I have a perfect memory.
Because whenever we forget something, the gap is filled by our imagination. Now that I remember everything exactly the way it was, things cease to be beautiful and romantic.
We do not always want to be reminded of tragic moments or bad times. How does forgetting work in your medium?
There are moments that you do not want to be reminded of, so you can take some different video footage and replace a certain memory with something you wish for or dream of. This makes imagination possible in the realm of digital memories.
You are already planning a follow-up version of Bad Trip. It will include a memory market, where users can buy and sell memories.
Yes, it will be possible for you to buy a memory of someone kissing the girl that you’re in love with. You can include it in your world.
As your own memory? This might sound a little bit blunt, but wouldn’t that falsify your own biography since it wasn’t you who experienced and engaged in that specific situation?
I would rather consider it a part of your imagination – and that is a vital element of our minds. All of us imagine a lot of counterfactual situations and ask ourselves, “What if?“
What are you going to work on next?
I am very interested in four-dimensional objects. That is, I am planning to do a computer animation of human beings or inanimate objects throughout their lifespan.
Since the fourth dimension is time, your idea would be to represent, let’s say, someone’s life through time in a static image, right?
Exactly. I am looking for a way to see things through time. But for now, I don’t want to reveal any more information about this project.
What’s the next step for Bad Trip? Will it be accessible to the public?
In January 2013, I will release my personal version of Bad Trip on the internet. Users will have the opportunity to explore my memory system.
So, everybody will be able to see the conversation we’re having right now?
Of course. A little later on I want to launch a version of Bad Trip for lifeloggers, allowing anyone to upload their memories and create their own landscapes. Like an architect in the movie Inception.
I am really looking forward to this! Thank you very much for your time, Alan.