Parents of the world, get jealous: in a talk for TED, cognitive scientist Deb Roy revealed his amazing experiment in which he and his wife documented every home moment of his son’s first five years on this planet. And you thought you had it bad when you had to pose for photos at Thanksgiving.
From the day he and his wife brought their son home five years ago, the family’s every movement and word was captured and tracked with a series of fisheye lenses in every room in their house. The purpose was to understand how we learn language, in context, through the words we hear.
A combination of new software and human transcription called Blitzscribe allowed them to parse 200 terabytes of data to capture the emergence and refinement of specific words in Roy’s son’s vocabulary. (Luckily, the boy was an early talker.) In one 40-second clip, you can hear how “gaga” turned into “water” over the course of six months. In a video clip, below, you can hear and watch the evolution of “ball.”
Unreal 3-D visualizations allowed his team to zoom through the house like a dollhouse and map the utterance of each word in its context. In a landscape-like image with peaks and valleys, you can see that the word “water” was uttered most often in the kitchen, while “bye” took place at the door.
Check out more—plus videos!—over at our website.
Oy. My main concern is that there is so much that is so gendered about life-logging (or any other intense self-documentation technique) that we don’t talk about.
In such, any time I see accounts of it by biological, heterosexual men in a “research” capacity, I want to scream. While Gordon Bell is recognized for the research value of lifelogging, female bloggers get called “oversharers”. There’s this implicit statement of “I have no secrets, I am never vulnerable, and nothing about my personal life is something I feel shame or need to hide.” Which is something like a misconstrued feminist ideal.
Seeing, watching, and remembering, then “parsing” everything that happens: these are inherently gendered activities. Haven’t mothers or other traditional caretakers of young children historically built these narratives of child growth and development? In accounts of technologizing these activities, I always look for an explanation, a reflection of what this work means, and how invisible it normally is, and I never find it.
Then, what does this say about the family home and the nuclear family? By panopticizing the home itself, doesn’t this just make a horrible joke? “But it’s for research!”, you say. And I say using your own children as subjects is so 1960s.