The interest in Self has been a complex but sustained quest in every culture. The issues that complicated this quest and continue to do so remain:
• Getting enough objective data
• Storing data
• Analyzing data
• Privacy of data.
With advances in technology, this is being helped. In fact, one could argue that the potential rewards resulted in sustained efforts to make progress in each of the above areas, A difficulty in making progress has been the dependence of each step on the previous steps listed above. The quest over centuries has led to the following distinct phases discussed briefly here.
At one stage, there was no technology to collect data and store it. People relied on data collection on their sensors, for storage on their memories, and for processing on their analysis and introspection. Since there were no techniques to collect objective data, and memory is a complex system that at best is very subjective and volatile, much of the information about the self was anecdotal. This information changed with time because even the original data kept changing based on later events and their outcome. This was the period in which people could only do introspection and build models related to them. Today, we can only imagine the quality of those models and the decisions that could be made based on those. No wonder, when people got sick, the best diagnosis was that the God is punishing them for something that they may have done in a previous life.
When writing became popular and commonly available, the idea of recording events in diaries and chronicles started taking shape. It was realized that depending on memory to record data was not very reliable; recording data was more reliable as well as retrievable. Individuals started recording important things about themselves using diaries and for organization and for environment people started recording in the form of chronicles. Initially this recording was possible using only writing and hand drawing or sketching. As technology advanced photography and later magnetic recording allowed to record more objective and experiential data. Even new sensors were developed for observing and recording this data.
These techniques gave a better recording because the total reliance on the memory was now reduced to subjective observation and recording of important data. The techniques still remain more subjective because a human observer and his senses played primary role in observation and his ability to articulate in recordings was the primary means of saving the data. Also, the analysis of data was based on human analysis and hence again was subjective.
These techniques have been popular for long time now and have been evolving slowly with advances in technology. Some of these have reduced significantly, such as diary writing, but others have increased significantly, such as collecting photos, recording emails and status updates, or doctors recording medical information.
A good thing about these techniques is that they are increasingly becoming more objective as much of the recorded data is becoming experiential. On the other hand, data is very sparse. It is usually collected during certain episodes that make it biased. Also, it exists in silos for many reasons, including privacy issues. All this makes determination of models of a person difficult and any model derived from such data are poor quality because the data is so poor. A common phrase in computing can be rephrased to represent the situation: Garbage Data results in Garbage Models.