My Quantified Life

The fact of the matter is that I’ve never been very good at building a ‘quantified life’.

Humans are creatures of habit, or so ‘they’ say. I’m sure this applies to me but not necessarily in the ways I wish it would.

Countless times over my life I’ve tried to start habits; daily, monthly, even yearly, but have failed to keep up with them. Perhaps a short attention span, changing interests, quantities of time or resources, or a combination of all these in addition to other factors; I’ve found myself stopping certain practices on a number of occasions because I simply couldn’t make them stick.

***

As a student of history and an individual who finds immense value in reading the stories told and lives documented by generations past, I’ve found it increasingly more and more difficult to document my life over the years.

With all of the technological tools that we have access to as a society, everything from iPhones and tablets to the long-lasting, tried and true pen and paper, I’ve been incapable (so it seems) to document my life on a regular basis and in a meaningful way.

I’ve attempted regimented processes to document my daily agenda, no matter how specific or vague I wanted it to be; I’ve tried journaling on a regular basis about the places I find myself in and interacting with; I’ve even tried to pick up a camera on a regular basis.

Each of these things has failed.

It seems that my ability to stick with any one of these things on its own is a near impossible feat. I’ve stopped even trying to think how I might accomplish a documented life that is built out of a combination of all these things.

***

A relatively short time ago I wrote this about how I had been re-united, so to speak, with my love (or at least the act) of photography.

When I wrote that piece I did so for myself, to help work through the process I had taken to get from one place to the next, and so I could gain a better understanding of how certain things I take on ultimately impact other aspects of my life.

Since I wrote that, now two years ago, I don’t feel as if I’ve taken photos or created any imagery at all. If I took the time to look through my catalog of (mostly) unprocessed images I’ll probably find that this isn’t the case, but I feel as if I’ve barely grasped my camera in the past year or so.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve made myself too busy for my own good, or that I’m looking at photography all wrong; that I need to have a traditional camera with my and my camera phone isn’t good enough to ‘get the job’ done (at one point it wasn’t, now it arguably is). Perhaps there’s a simpler reason behind it all together: it’s of no interest to me.

I can’t really say.

***

While it’s always in the back of my mind every so often I actively think about a person’s legacy and what they’ll contribute to their culture and society, in this life and the next. Like most things, I think of this in terms of the practical and not in relationship to the spiritual concept of legacy that some may be more familiar with.

While it’s not a dictating factor when I choose to do or create the things that I, well, do and create, it is at the back of my mind, but I’ve already said that.

I wonder when I pass on how I might be remembered. Will it be for the things I’ve done, the tangible things I’ve created and shared, the people I’ve interacted with or a combination of all these things? It’s so hard to say.

I could spend time actively building a legacy, with that being at the forefront of my mind and actions, but I’d worry that it may become to prescriptive and would remove the true meaning and purpose from the things I want to do; lessening or changing the potential and actual impact I may be able to make, today and tomorrow, rather than in another life.

As someone who enjoys reading through the journals of the people before our time, looking at postcards from the journeys others have taken, or imagining what the story is behind the people I see in old images that are unmarked, I appreciate the legacy that each of the people (or groups within our past societies) have left for me and future generations to come. Without knowing it (I can only assume), they’ve provided value to my life, have helped to inform the things I do, understand and appreciate as I grow as a person.

I doubt that any of these individuals when writing in their journals, sending a postcard or taking a photo, did so with the future in mind. They documented their lives because at the time it made sense and had a purpose, regardless of how small a purpose that may have been. They weren’t thinking about legacy or what people in the future might take away from what they’ve done; they were creating these things for themselves and the others in their lives.

***

Yesterday my wife made the comment that we don’t take photos anymore, of anything. What she was really inferring is that I don’t take photos anymore. 1 This got me thinking and is how I got to here.

If I look at how my life has changed over the past couple of years, for better or worse, however big or small those changes might be, I could say that I’ve lived a more active life.

I spend more time outdoors, I’ve been doing more in general (but don’t consider myself busy). I’ve been intentionally taking the time to sit, think and reflect, on a regular basis. I feel as if I’m more ‘present’ in my own life than I ever have been before.

With that said, I feel that I do ‘waste’ a fair amount of time doing frivolous things, however I realize that these things can help to clear the mind, provide context for other things and sometimes just need to happen for life to move on.

***

Perhaps my life isn’t one that’s meant to be documented. On paper, in images, on postcards or another physical medium; perhaps this isn’t ‘for me’. I can’t really say, unfortunately, I can only infer based on what I know about my own habits (or lack there of), actions and what I’ve done to date.

While I’ve stated that the idea of a personal legacy is at the back of my mind I wonder if, when I try and create a physical documentation of my life, that I’m trying to force it to be at the forefront, dictating what I’m doing at the moment and why I’m doing it.

Is the act of writing in a journal, keeping an agenda or creating imagery something that I’m doing to create a legacy, more accurately labeled a memory or document of my life for individuals like me and societies like this, but only of the future.

Rather than doing things for myself am I letting the idea of a legacy be the reason behind my trying to create a documented life?

I’d love to sit down in 40 years, if I’m still around, and remember by reading and seeing, all of the things I did, was thinking or experienced, but I’m not convinced that’s what I need.

I make jokes that my memory is already fading, I very often can’t remember what I had to eat for lunch the previous day, but I also can recite almost everything I experienced and felt that month I spent in Paris. Yes I am still young and yes there are images from that 2005 summer, but the experience itself and the memories are so vivid that I wonder how they might be enhanced at all through further documentation.

***

Perhaps I’m just forcing a documented life in a way that’s too formal and regimented. The moments when I take the time to slow down, actively write something or intentionally create an image are the ones that I return to time and time again. This piece, regardless how long (or poorly written) will be one of the things I’ll return to at some point, if only to tell myself how wrong I was.

***

I think of the long form letters I send to friends I’ve hardly ever seen in person and what I share in those. I think of the image of myself with my dog that someone else took. These things aren’t scripted, on any schedule and certainly aren’t refined, but they needn’t be: they are the things that I’m glad are around for me.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps that’s all I need.


  1. you see, I’m the only one that has ever thought to actively bring a camera anywhere