To those who know me, have met me virtually, or have seen me on Twitter or somewhere else on the ‘net, you know I’m not always the best at curbing my enthusiasm, keeping a consistent facial expression, or staying in one spot. Hyperactivity has always been central to who I am as a person; it’s what gets me through everything I need to do and get done and then some! Back in the day, my parents used to joke that it would be amazing if there were a way to track all that physical activity; especially all the running around, which I’ve never slowed down with. According to Jill Walker Rettberg, in her contribution “Automated Diaries” for the book Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves the FitBit I’ve worn nearly every day for three years and change is the perfect example of an automated diary. Don’t believe me? Keep reading and we’ll travel the winding road of this chapter together! (Fair warning, it will be brief! This was a pretty open and shut reading for me.)
To offer up a brief summary of the reading, Rettberg essentially spends her time unpacking the idea of assistive technology and apps that help to paint a picture of our daily and overall lives through all sorts of data collection. All sorts of apps that I had ner heard of before, and have no interest in ever trying out are mentioned, and her experience is detailed and varied with each one. Pictures, sound bites, stored location data, detected physical activity, and every recorded keystroke amount to a weighing of our activities and who we are as people.
This same data, however intrusive and consequential it may already seem, then gains a sharper and even more serrated edge when you think about the implications of this data collection; sure, “privacy” which I put in quotation marks is always a thing, but was it ever really respected? Long before the days of the smartphone, people were still nosy, and surveillance still existed and did its thing! Now, though, society does the bulk of surveillance’s job for free. Rettberg doesn’t touch on the ethics of data mining too much though, and also kind of skates across the surface of what the implications of this tracking are for AI and facial recognition technology as well.
Full frontal opinion: It was fun for a minute to go look up all the apps and assistive tech, like the wearable camera. That’s actually where I drew my FitBit comparison from! See, my Fitbit is a somewhat protected digital diary in the sense that I made sure only people I have added on the app can see the things I have made visible to them, but it isn’t perfect. If I decided to do a running competition with them, there’s always room for an anonymous profile to just join in, much like what happens in Zoombombing, and then they can see exactly how much physical activity I get up to. Other than this, I think the only thing I’ve ever done in the realm of digital journaling would be these weekly blogs, and there wasn’t too much else on this topic I feel compelled to comment on.
Moving forward, I feel like this article definitely needs an update when it comes to the discussion of biometrics and facial recognition. I know a set of identical twins who weren’t able to fool Apple’s Face ID unlock, so it’s definitely made strides since this article. There’s also the freaky experience I had with Google Photos; I had meme’d over a picture of my Dad from his much younger years (no one is safe in this house) and somehow, despite the fact he looks really, really different, Google knew he was the same guy! Here’s a side-by-side comparison to show you how different he looks.
For me, there wasn’t much in this article that I didn’t already know or try out for myself when it came to the technological aspect, and there wasn’t much in terms of the effects that I wasn’t already aware of or have seen in myself or others in the past. I thought it was kind of funny, but alarming when Rettberg talked about how we’re constantly craving for updates and validation with all of this technology; that we want to see someone else’s updates, that we want to see how many likes we get, that we just want the constant stimulation, and to an extent, simulation of our lives and others to be readily available. Yes, as an Internet-age kid, I know there was a time where people would log onto ask.fm and answer all sorts of invasive and borderline concerning questions that people would send them, or they would anonymously send themselves in an effort to get attention or look cool or achieve some sort of social end. I also remember the various “like for a confession” posts that people would put out for them and their friend groups amusement, and the rise and fall of posting everything they were doing and who they were with at all times. I think the only thing that finally got people to stop that practice was when it came time to apply for college and jobs.
Looking back on it, I’m glad that my parents didn’t let me fall into that trend, and I still had the analogous journal and diary experience. I had to stuff it under a pillow, under a mattress, in between clothes and in my sock crate so no one else in the house would read it, but it was so worth it! It’s kind of funny to revisit, and in a sense, almost relive those days; I remember going back to my middle school journal and thinking, “Woah, that was my biggest worry? That was the person I was crushing on? And why, oh why, did I only write in purple pen?” I distinctly remember asking my parents once if having the Internet would have made a difference in the early days of their marriage, when they lived on opposite ends of the world for nearly two and a half years, but all my Mom ever said was, “The time it took for a letter to reach me made it that much more special, and it left some mystery, and some exciting discoveries to make about the other person. You didn’t give everything about yourself away all at once.”
In some ways, I feel like this article is the perfect definition of getting in to get out, and getting out to get in. We get into the web and crafting the perfect digital life and invest in what others curate to get out of our mundane routines and trite expectations, and continuously feed into this cycle for validation and differentiation and all the other buzz-words for escapism. And then, we get out of it to get into living life and being in the moment and learning to remember instead of document. As a wise person once told me, “Your brain has more keyboard shortcuts than your computer already built in. Just remember to use them every once in a while!”
Another note that Rettberg made that I want to touch on before closing this out is the novelty of photographs, and how our culture of convenience has made the appreciation of memories and living in the moment something of a lost art. I love revisiting videos and photos of important moments in my life, and of fun things like hockey and baseball games, and concerts, but I don’t keep enough around to actually recreate the whole night; the memories, the emotions, and the enjoyment are all still internal for me. I’m going to cut myself off here before I really start to sound like a Boomer.
Well, I’ve given you a summary, an analysis, a response, and a glimpse into my life with photos of two of my favorite human beings on the planet! Here’s “A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun” by Manic Street Preachers, one of my favorites that fits the occasion, and a promise to be present and participate in class. Over and out, cub scouts! Oh, and check out the highlights of my six-word stories from the past week below!