Will Lifelogging Data End Up on Our Tombstones?

Between smartphones, social networks, and fitness wearables, people increasingly track different parts of their lives. All of that personalized data has to go somewhere. At Science Gallery Dublin, an exhibit called Lifelogging explores different uses for all of this data and ways that it might impact human behavior. And one striking piece shows what might be a gravestone of the future.

In the exhibit, which opened on Feb. 13, designer Karl Toomey displays a series of “Fictional and humourous lifelogging products,” including a small “Celebrity Tracker” device that keeps tabs on Justin Bieber for a monthly subscription fee, and a necklace that shows whether you’re a “Data Donor,” along with whether you’ve opted to be an organ donor.

Perhaps the most striking piece, noticed by the Verge, is a tombstone that reads, “In loving memory of @kurtmarkoneill, 1999-2064. 672 Twitter Followers, 1,673 Clubcard Points, 60,590,000 Calories Consumed, 92% Positive eBay Feedback, 184 Tinder Matches, 76,928 km Jogged.” It was a full life.

Toomey says in a video about the exhibit, “I look around at some of the pieces here and it’s all quite scientific. And maybe I took more of a humorous approach to mine and kind of imagined where this idea of lifelogging could go in the future.”

Toomey’s gravestone is compelling because it almost seems possible. The quantified self movement is all about breaking down and evaluating different parts of our lives using data, and it’s not much a stretch to imagine using data to assess a life lived. What did the deceased achieve … numerically speaking.

Death is a complicated concept in the digital world, where posts and pages can live forever. Facebook, for example, has struggled to figure out the right policies for handling user data once a person dies. But we are generating more and more individualized data every day, so these questions are going to spread beyond social media very soon.