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.

Hypocrisy at the Circle

One of the most notable themes that can be identified between pages 102 and 205 of The Circle is hypocrisy.  As Mae continues incorporating herself more and more into the Circle and immersing herself in its culture, it seems that she loses a sense of who she is and what she stands for.  Her interactions with both Francis and Mercer highlight this development.

When LuvLuv was introduced at Dream Friday, Mae was horrified to find herself named publicly as the subject of Francis’ affection during a preview of the new service.  Mae was caught off guard and unprepared for the entire experience.  Ultimately, everyone in the audience was given a detailed look into her life, including her allergies, names of restaurants she frequents, rankings of her favorite foods, movie preferences, favorite locations, and more.  LuvLuv was able to take advantage of the data trail she had been unwittingly leaving for years and turn it into a search engine for people who were interested in knowing about her.  Mae, understandably, is furious and finds herself wondering why Francis couldn’t ask her himself what he wanted to know about her.

One day later, however, Mercer repeats this same question to Mae when he criticizes her work at and association with the Circle.  Mercer take issue with how Mae interacts and communicates with him, essentially unhappy with how she uses social networks to interact, prioritizing online engagement over personal engagement.  He has problems with how the Circle encourages people to participate online in what he understands to be a system that perpetuates untrue information by way of comments, posts and reviews on businesses.  Mae had believed one of the false reviews about his business that was nothing more than rumor, and he is frustrated that she became instantly angry with him instead of asking him personally to verify the claim.  As a reader its frustrating that Mae can’t see the ironic parallel between her own frustration and Mercer’s. She had been wishing for the exact same thing only a day ago, that Francis ask engage with her personally.  Yet when speaking with Mercer, she decries him as an underachiever for being unwilling to participate and buy into the necessity of an online presence.  If she really believed in the importance of this online presence then she would have no issue with LuvLuv.

Maybe its my natural tendency to distrust things I don’t completely understand (in this case the Circle’s incongruous image as an overlord yet extremely convenient and necessary for social life), but Mercer’s interaction with Mae was the first time during my reading that I wasn’t on Mae’s side.  He advocates for an offline lifestyle and refuses to buy into the Circle’s dominance over communication and interaction, which is refreshing after reading about Mae being blindly enthralled by the Circle’s capabilities and technologies.  She refuses to acknowledge the dangerous side of these technologies, even after she is upset about the LuvLuv incident.  Mercer, I think, provides a needed respite from the Circle and its culture, and at least proves that some characters are immune to it’s powerful influence.

Looking For Love In all the Wrong Places

In this week’s reading of The Circle, an app called LuvLuv is introduced. The app makes all of the data surrounding an individual available for the lover in question to use in order to make wise decisions on dates and ultimately, win over the individual.

I immediately compared this fictitious app to present dating sites including Eharmony and Match.com. I personally do not have much experience with the sites, but they do expedite the process of matching people with similar interests. The main difference between these sites and LuvLuv is that people can edit their profiles on today’s dating sites. This ability often leads to people altering some (Read: most) of their details in order to seem more attractive; in this sense forming an artificial data double. The classic example leads to profile pictures that are taken at a way earlier date or of a completely different person. Additionally, it is questionable whether a perfect match of interests leads to a happy couple (See Video). The saying, “Opposites attract obviously does not apply to dating sites.

LuvLuv ultimately cuts out this flaw entirely, by using truthful data out of people’s everyday lives, leading to a pretty accurate depiction of an individual. Although useful, I think there is another weakness in this system. By making this information known to the general public, it makes dating into a somewhat rigged game rather than real life. If I knew all of a person’s interests before meeting them, I could artificially make myself exactly like them. I could take her to her favorite restaurant, put on her favorite music, and ultimately connect with her using the power of information. The problem the person on that date would not be “me.” I would be just as fake as the 80 year old using an Eharmony profile picture from the 1970s.

Although both methods attempt to precipitate relationships, I think love is something that cannot be created with wires.

Incompatibility of Dataveillance and Relationships

Eggers highlights the complications arising from dataveillance in relationships, seen when Mae’s personal information is revealed to Francis through a search program called LuvLuv. This program utilizes an algorithm to search for Mae’s interests and dislikes, while “[analyzing] for relevance,” in order to create a virtual profile for suitors (Eggers 123). LuvLuv only turns up information that Mae “openly offered” or that was collected through her use of TruYou, highlighting her active role in producing the data LuvLuv aggregates. Understandably, Mae is uncomfortable with “having a matrix of preferences presented as [her] essence,” which she notes is not completely accurate (126).

This passage highlights the benefits of having a certain level of initial ignorance when in a relationship, as personal information must be learned through getting to personally know someone. Even though she provided this information publicly, it seems as though forgoing the process of becoming close with someone is unnatural. Moreover, simply collecting information about someone does not equate with truly getting to know that person, which requires time and trust. As Mae’s ex notes, Circle creates programs that “manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs,” highlighting how this technology is overstepping the bounds of normal dating behavior (134). Although one could argue that people use dating websites today, which essentially reflect LuvLuv’s goals, I would say that the active collection and creation of an online profile by the individual differs from an external source doing so for you.

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.

Making Disney Magic

Many reader posts this week focused on John Foreman’s article, which doesn’t surprise me.  I would have, too.  Full disclosure: I was literally obsessed with Disney as a child, and as far I was concerned Disney could never be bad.  It all started when Cinderella came to my birthday party when I was 3 and told me I was a princess.  I was 5 years old the first time my parents took me to Disney World (which I pronounced Dis-uh-nee), and we’ve returned many times since.  I vividly recall receiving a special hotel room key with my name printed on it, and hiring a family tour guide who could get us extra fast passes as we rode the rides.  It was all about efficiency, and there would be no time wasted.  As my sister and I grew older, it became more and more like a game as we tried to get as many fast passes for as many rides as possible.  It seemed like a race against all other families to do the most we possibly could in the shortest possible time.  In hindsight we were maybe too intense about our vacations.

Modern Fam - gloria- i lose i burn this hose down
The Duncan Family Disney Mentality, as demonstrated by Gloria from Modern Famliy

 

So to me, the Disney MagicBand feels like a device that would cater directly to my weirdly intense family.  We get sucked into the adventure and can’t stop running between rides and discreetly racing other families and buying snacks along the way, which is probably what they want — complete absorption in the entire theme park experience.  The MagicBand removes all obstacles in our way, like having to physically remove your wallet to pay for things.  It seems like it would be a perfect fit for us, so I decided to dig deeper into Disney’s data collection.  Apparently, the MagicBand is technically defined as “an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects you to all the vacation choices you made with My Disney Experience.”  What a nice personal touch.  However, if you check out Disney’s Privacy & Legal page you can actually “review how your information is collected and protected” which will then direct you to this FAQ where you can then access The Walt Disney Company Privacy Center.  The sheer number of links it takes to get to this page is enough for me to lose interest in learning about how Disney is tracking my data.  This stuff is boring so I read it for you.  Here’s what I’ve found.

Disney collects three types of information: personal, anonymous, and aggregate.  They collect your name, address, email, password, gender, date of birth, phone number, payment information, anything posted on their website, anything posted on a Disney app, location information when using their websites or apps, usage, viewing and technical data, and more.  So what happens to your data?  Well, a member (read: subsidiary or affiliated entity) of the Walt Disney Family of Companies (including ABC, Disney, DisneyPixar, ESPN, Hollywood Films, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Muppets, Playdom, Star Wars, and others) will act as data controller.  Specifically, a data processor will be the one analyzing your data on behalf of the data controller.  Using your data, they can “send you offers and promotions for our products” and “provide you with advertising based on your activity on our sites and applications.” From here, you can click through to Disney’s Online Tracking and Advertising page, which, if you’ve made it this far, is where you’ll really lose interest in caring about any of this (with the exception of maybe some data enthusiasts or something).  Do I really want to understand the full reality of giving Disney my data in return for this plasticky wristband of convenience?  Or do I want to be blissfully ignorant as I buy my $9 bottle of water with the wave of my arm, just like a magic wand?  I want to say no, that I wouldn’t be a part of their system, and that I wouldn’t simply give my data away so easily.  But let’s be real…

Tom - this is america, I want it now

Disney: Behind Closed Doors

The Disney MagicBand is an interesting appliance. Rakim’s blog post explains greater research in the band and comes to the conclusion that the “more customized experience” might be worth the personal data breach.

I find it very interesting that on the DisneyWorld site (link below), there is plenty of talk about the MagicBand’s perks, including ease of room entrance, food purchases, and FastPass+ access to a multitude of experiences. But there is absolutely no notice of any of the “behind the scenes” features of the bands, especially Disney’s ability to track your every waking move. With this data, Disney can increase their efficiency, making more profits, while making more people “happy.”

I personally think it is an ingenious strategy and will ultimately do wonders for the amusement park. But I do believe that this trickery is not natural. Personally, the best part about Disney World for me was that everything was unexpected. I never knew what ride, structure, or cartoon characters I was going to see at every turn. It was exciting and incredibly appealing to me in my adolescence. I feel like the band takes away from this experience. It makes actions predictable and ultimately less fun for a couple extra bucks. The data will definitely make the park more efficient, but playing on people’s affinity towards “immediate payoffs,” (Dr. Sample’s Comment) could have consequences that affect the unpredictability of the park and human nature as a whole in the future.

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/bands-cards/understanding-magic-band/

 

Posture and Class Attentiveness

This week, I observed how students’ posture and positioning affected their overall class participation. I looked at the correlation between characteristics, such as slouching forward/back and straight sitting to the amount of questions answered in class. I also collected data on whether the student was facing Dr. Sample and if they were cross legged. The data is as follows.

Total Amount of Questions Answered: 28

Slouched Forward: 13 (46.4%)

Slouched Back: 9 (32.1%)

Straight Sitting: 6 (21.4%)

________________________________________

Facing Professor: 12 (42.8%)

Cross Legged: 8 (28.5%)

Based on the data, it seems like students who were slouched forward as well as facing the professor were more likely to answer questions. In addition, I found it interesting that students who were slouched back were more likely to answer questions than those sitting up straight. I would guess that this is most likely because people usually do not practice perfect posture anywhere.

 

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.

Average Response Time in Class

In class on Thursday, I recorded the duration of every response to each question asked in class.  I did this, because I thought it would be interesting to see if the response time increased as we got more in depth with a particular subject, and then when the subject changed, the response time would drop, and then slowly build back up again. The data indicates that this theory is not correct, because the response times do not appear to have any clearly visible trend. This is likely because as we go more in depth with a topic, the questions do not necessarily require an longer answer. In fact, some of the introductions to new topics might have required the longest answers, because it was necessary to describe a large amount of information to the class.

Summary Statistics (Time Spent Talking in Class)

Proc Means

This indicates that approximately 10 and 1/3 minutes of our class time was spent by students responding to questions.

Plot of Response Times

Response Time

Plot of Difference in Response Times

Difference

Plot of Whether there was an Increase or Decrease in Length of Response (1=Increase)

Increase or Decrease