Do you ever wonder how your father’s life was like when he was your age? How about your grandfather? What were the things on their mind? What were their hopes for their families, what were their worries, concerns? What did they do for fun? How about your great grandfather and his father? Do you know anything about them?
Sometimes I wish they had left a diary, something where I can go back to and read, something that captures their emotions when they were going through a similar stage of their life. There were hardly any pictures, let alone videos back then.
Today, in the age of digital media, we have chance to leave something lasting behind. Something our grandkids could look at one day many years from now. I believe the answer is a tool some of use every day. But first here is a quiz: Which of the following is most likely to be your family historian?
a) Your collection of digital images
b) Your collection of videos
c) Your emails
d) Your personal finance tool, a la Quicken, or Microsoft Money
I strongly believe that the answer is, d) Your personal finance tool, and by a long shot. As cold an unemotional as it appears, you can learn a lot about someone’s life by looking at his finances. Actually, you can know more about that peson then you can ever do looking at his pictures and videos. I’ve come to this conclusion after using Microsoft Money for more than 10 years.
First and foremost, pictures and videos mainly capture notable events, as such they are snapshot of ones life. Your financials capture your routines, what you do over and over again, in a continuous way. It is not the one off events that define you, it is your routines, things you do over and over again. Emails are good too, but unlike financials that focus on specific events, email are inefficient since one sends so many of them, hard to get to the essence of your life through email.
Microsoft Money would capture, where you worked, how much you made, how your salary grew over time, when you got a big bonus, what you spent it on, where you lived, what you did for vacation, where you went on vacation, what hobbies you spent your money, what school you sent your children and what activities they did there. Since most transactions you enter in the system has a memo field, you can enter a little blurb about the transaction. So, in my case, every time I go to dinner I write down who I went with. It even keeps track of your social life.
It doesn’t spell out the emotions but they can be gleaned. Your children can know whether you saved money or lived month to month. They can know what kinds of health problems you and from what you spent to cure them. It can tell them whether you were able to spend money for events that made you happy. I would have loved to know what my grandfather did for fun on a random Friday night, wouldn’t you?
None of this data is captured in the video of a birthday party, or in vacation pictures. It is loud an clear in your financials. Gordon Bell at Microsoft has a “My Life Bits” project and your spending habits are a small but key part of your life bits. The 40MB file I accumulated in over 10 years, says far far more about my life then any video I can ever make (an hour of video is 13GB by the way).
So what I bought as a personal finance tool, ended up being my family historian. I bet the designers of the program didn’t think it would morpth this way, but it has. It is bar none the second most important application on my PC after the browser. That is why I recommend everybody to use one. One day your children will love to look at it. It is one of the best gifts you can give them.