A Circle of Anonymous Ferrets

Anonymouse Hippo

Our class’ recent collaborative effort to answer the essay prompt posed some new interesting angles on Dave Eggers’ The Circle. We have recently discussed how the fictional events of the novel reveal some eerily familiar truths about the future path of society. Some readers take Eggers’ novel as playful satire while others cringe at its potentially prophetic nature. With the new construction plans for the Google headquarters in California, the events, products, interactions, and overall concept of The Circle suddenly don’t seem as farfetched. In a more local sense, the collaborative essay revealed a lot about online identities and anonymity, both prevalent concepts from the Circle.

It was interesting to note how many classmates used anonymous profiles to answer the questions. This was likely for a number of reasons. The first being that they did not want the pressure of posting an inadequate response or grammatical error and having it tied to their name. As a signed-in user, with their name on the profile, other users could see the user’s exact typing as it occurred. This put signed-in users in a more vulnerable state than the rest of the responders.

For other anonymous users, “Anonymous Ferret” was just a façade that could be hidden behind either actively or passively. Anonymity allowed for responders to say anything they wanted without consequence, or they could remain idle without anyone knowing their lack of participation. I wasn’t an observer this week, but I did notice that there were zero idle profiles where students were logged in using their actual names. On the other hand, there were numerous users in each document whose cursor remained in the same location for the entirety of the class. This trend is similar to that of modern-day internet with “Catfishing” and trolling. Ironically enough, our class engages in the same behavior we frown upon and blog about.

Taking Control of Big Brother’s Eye

Consumers control the market and ultimately have the power to limit the sight of “Big Brother’s eye”

I found Peterson’s title and reference to George Orwell’s 1984 both comical and clichéd. The reference to “Big Brother” is so commonly used when referring to big data because it is easily assumed that any corporation or government organization with hands on the data would automatically and instantly abuse the privilege and spy on the population. It is rarely realized that such a freedom is in fact a privilege and not a right. If us, as consumers, were so interested in privacy, we wouldn’t demand such tools.

Why is it that our Jawbone, Fitbit, Misfit, or whatever other device we use to track exercise and sleep HAS to link up with our iPhone? Obviously, the answer is shear convenience. How appealing would it be to download all of your daily data to a laptop or some other form of offline tracker? That would seem monotonous and excessive. Developers have found a way to incorporate something useful, a fitness and sleep tracker, and pair that with the thing that Americans interact with more than anything else on a daily basis, a smartphone.

All inventions come to improve or initiate efficiency in a particular activity. That is simply the nature of technology. Pederson’s idea of augmented memory also sounds extremely convenient (and dangerous, but that’s another conversation). Having the ability to remember everything I ever read, studied, or discussed would come with so many advantages. However, the fact that that information could be digitized and distribute would also frighten me. Again, such an invention would still only be optional in society, which is the beauty of a market economy. Unlike in Orwell’s dystopian society, we can control Big Brother’s market if we really desire. Unfortunately for those fearful of Big Brother’s eye, millions of fitness tracking users would agree that convenience is extremely important, thus fueling the spread of these big data mechanisms.

A Mercator Mapping Mystery

After our discussion Tuesday, I began to do some research on my own. While searching for some interactive inaccurate maps, I found a blog that boldly declared to me that every map I had ever seen was radically wrong. The blogger began to explain that one of his co-workers mentioned a thing to him called the Mercator project. Being unfamiliar with the term, as was I, the blogger browsed the term “Mercator.”

As Cam Bard previously noted during his discussion, it is impossible to represent a three dimensional world on a two dimensional scale. Apparently, a cartographer from the 1500s named Gerard Mercator created the ovular map that we recognize today. In an attempt to preserve the shapes of the world’s countries, Mercator drew the countries as we commonly see them on the map. However, he did not account for the scaling with relation to the Equator. On most maps, countries and landforms appear larger and larger as they are placed farther from Equator. The blogger’s primary example was Greenland. The point was made that Greenland is roughly 60% smaller than we believe it to be according to modern maps.

A Mercator Puzzle was created to show how warped depictions are on most maps. It was quite intriguing to find that, according to the Mercator Puzzle, Greenland was roughly the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo (an average-sized country in the middle of Africa). The thing that stuck me after investigating the Mercator mystery was, how can the people who designed the Mercator Puzzle be so sure that their map predictions are accurate??

Observing Our Attention Spans Throughout Class

On Tuesday and Thursday, I observed the tendencies of our classmates. I wanted to see how our posture and attention shifted throughout class. There were three observable categories: number of hands on faces, number of phones on tables, and number of students looking at laptops. The frequency of each of the categories was calculated in 15 minute intervals both Tuesday (2/11) and Thursday (2/13).

I predicted that people would get more tired (more hands touching faces) and people would lose attention (stare at their computers and phones) as class ensued. Those trends can be seen in some sections, but the trend is not perfectly linear.

Also, I would like to note that some of the statistics might have been skewed because of our “fishbowl” session on Tuesday.Graph 1

Graph 2Graph 3

Graph 4




Reducing Context Cluelessness

James Hemings’ identity was nearly lost as a result of archival silence

Typically, historians look to understand the happenings of the past exactly as they were. To understand the past, context is generally a high priority. In Lauren Klein’s paper regarding Thomas Jefferson’s letter collection, words and phrases were pieced together to form a new inscription about the identity of a previously unknown slave named James Hemings. Klein explained the recent discovery of Hemings’ identity as a result of “archival silence.” Because of gaps in archival record, Heming’s identity was lost deep in the annals of Jefferson’s literature. Without knowing the context and time period when Thomas Jefferson was writing his letters, the language can be confusing and misunderstood. It was taboo for someone of Jefferson’s position and status to write of slave laborers, so subtle hints had to be pieced together, much like a puzzle. Fortunately, through the use of text mapping, a new picture came to view, outside of the individual letters themselves.

One article from Technology Review revealed that text mapping can also explain changes in terminology used across time periods. The article made a point to state that terms can change meaning literally overnight. In an internet assessment run just after the release of the Microsoft operating system by researchers at Stoney Brook University, the term “windows” morphed into much more than just a common household feature. Technology changed the entire understanding of the word. Similar to the textplot software in Quantifying Kissinger, Google Trends and other similar features can offer a unique representation moments in history. Paired with the benefits of reducing “archival silence,” the use of text mapping software can help provide comprehensive historical pictures through inscription and representation that could be the future of historical archiving.