Everything: Totality and Self-Representation, from Past to Present


This paper explores the autobiographical desire for a complete, comprehensive recording of a life. As long ago as 1762, Diderot wrote in a letter to his love, Sophie Volland:

How is it, I asked myself, that […] nobody has the courage to keep for us an exact register of all the thoughts running through his mind, all the movements of his heart, all his sorrows, all his pleasures, and countless centuries will pass without us knowing whether life is a good or bad thing […].

(237, my translation)

Centuries have passed. Total Recall (2009), a book by high-tech guru Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell, with a forward by Bill Gates, portrays a world where everything you see, hear, experience or encounter is digitalized and stored. Documents will be scanned, cameras about your body will automatically take pictures and videos of what you see, sounds will be recorded, and bodily signs sensed. GPS sensors will constantly record your whereabouts. All this “data” will remain accessible and searchable by you, and would even outlive you: the digitalized “memory” of your life would constitute the basis for an avatar that would be able, when you are gone, to answer questions the way you would have, to learn, and develop. Technology then would be able to “record” experience. Our life would become data.

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