Personal Information: When Less is More

As I’ve continued to read The Circle by Dave Eggers, I’ve gotten progressively more freaked out by the idea of such an all-inclusive social network. Although this comes from last week’s reading, the scene where Mae is accosted by a superior for not activating her social circle had me sweating, as did her meeting with an offended employee.

This week’s reading (I think; I’ve overlapped somewhat) introduced LuvLuv, an extremely creepy search engine that allows users to (in the world of The Circle, of course), pinpoint another user’s preferences regarding dating. The common theme that these fictional technologies share seems to be the idea that all information about each other must be shared to ensure efficiency, and indeed, this is the company’s predominant slogan: “All that happens must be known.” Sure, in the novel, LuvLuv can only search for information already provided for by the user, but our intentions when posting statuses surely cannot be to have them meticulously combed. As Mae points out in the book, what’s wrong with simply asking someone in person? She, understandably, hates having her information sifted through, and states that perhaps it’s because she doesn’t want her personality to be boiled down to her presence on social media.

The catch-22 is that The Circle wants this to happen, for everyone, but is it truly possible? Can social media effectively convey who someone is through photos and text on a computer screen? Unfortunately for Mae, this is what her company requires, and later, her ex-boyfriend expresses his opinions on the subject, saying that social media only clouds legitimate relationships. I wholly believe this to be the case. Sure, perhaps these websites can offer a small glimpse of someone’s hobbies and interests, but that seems to be about it. This doesn’t even take into account that (thank God), we still have a choice, no matter how thinly veiled, in terms of what we decide to post. As a result, we only post what we want to be illuminated. I can’t imagine a world where everyone knew everything about me. Give me the shadows, because when I decide to let myself out, it will mean that much more.

The End of Individuality? A Response to Tuesday’s Class

In class on March 24th, we discussed what John Foreman calls the “destruction of mysterious humanity.” He claims that data tracking dehumanizes us by analyzing our every move, and companies use the information to “squeeze us dry”. It’s true. Corporations want our money, but will their tactics really rob of us of our individuality? I don’t think so. When was the last time, for example, you became interested in something because you saw an ad for it on your computer? Will personalized advertisements really spell the end of experiencing new things? Of course not; inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere, and to be honest, I would rather see ads for concerts and electronics than for tampons. We discussed how these ads also, in a way, show us disrespect by treating us like cattle. Maybe we can turn this around, though. These companies respect us enough to realize that we are all different and therefore do not need the same ad experience. They respect our individuality and realize that to make money off of us, they have to cater to us as individuals. The NSA, however, doesn’t discriminate; they monitor us regardless, despite our differences. Perhaps they respect our extremely tiny change to incite violence and terror, but while a corporation wants to affect everyone with their tracking, the NSA only casts a huge net as a failsafe. Furthermore, we don’t have to be tracked by corporations, unlike the NSA. No one forces us to use Google’s free services; in fact, anyone can make a Google search without an account. They simply ask that if you want to play on their playground, you play by their rules as well. Sounds fair to me, especially since they don’t force us to buy anything, but hey– maybe I’ll enjoy that suggested video on my YouTube sidebar.

More Random Observations

From Class Thursday:

It seems plenty of people took advantage of the nice weather. I counted 11 people wearing shorts on Thursday and 5 wearing button down shirts, including Dr. Sample. At least 9 people were not, unfortunately, wearing their fitness bands; it’s undetermined how many of these absences were due to faulty equipment. Finally, Dr. Sample coughed an average of 1.27 times per minute during class over a 30 minute period.

Regarding Maps and Other Visualizations

In How to Lie With Maps, Mark Monmolier shows us how something we often take for granted, maps, are often designed to purposely persuade us and not to just represent information. Reading through Monmollier’s summary reveals the different ways map data can be construed, and although this deception proves interesting, I personally thought more about data visualization as a whole–and its inherent limitations. Monmollier, for example, discusses how maps must represent either distances or shapes correctly because both cannot be achieved at the same time. The problem stems from trying to represent a 3-dimensional object on a 2-dimensional plane; in the vast majority of cases, loss of information is guaranteed. So, we have to make decisions when mapping data regarding what is important enough to include and what isn’t. This goes, of course, for every attempt to represent data visually, making processes like cartography very interesting. If the point were to be as absolutely accurate as possible, some people probably would not be able to understand what’s going on in the visualization, effectively being shut out. It’s like the oft-quoted difference between OSX and Windows. Make the data too accessible, and parts of it are lost in the simplicity. That’s the trade-off. Mapping data allows us to see the big picture of raw data quickly and clearly without trudging through lines of code, but it misses a lot. So, who decides what data is important and what isn’t? In the case of maps, that’s completely up to the cartographer, who will be hopefully be as truthful as possible; it’s too much of a chore for us to sort through data to make sure it’s all there.

Group 5 Data Collection Week 1/26

Tuesday:

  • 13 laptops out, 10 of which were open
  • 9 of these were Apple
  • 2 tablets out: 1 apple, 1 windows
  • 15 people had paper notebooks
  • 2 had both a laptop and paper notebook
  • 1 person had nothing out at all

Thursday:

  • 19 laptops out, all open
  • 14 of these were Apple
  • 3 tablets out: 2 apple, 1 windows
  • 11 people had paper notebooks
  • 5 people had both a laptop and paper notebook
  • 0 people had nothing out