This past Tuesday’s class we did a collaborative essay on “the Circle”, a book that we had been reading for the last week of class. It was the first time that I had been introduced to something of this nature. It was an interesting to watch the interactions that went on. For example, have the class stayed anonymous when they logged in to Google Docs, whole the other half had their names visible for everyone. I noticed for the most part that the people that stayed anonymous on the essay were more inclined to write more and throw out more thoughts than the people that were logged in. I think this is because they felt that since they were anonymous and nobody knew who was contributing what information, they were more likely to put out more creative thoughts. This was interesting to look at because it kind of dealt with the TruYou aspect of the book, in that in the book your anonymity was taken away when you went to a website and it caused things to be more civil and in a way less creative. Thinking back on the task of the collaborative essay, I wonder how it would be different, or if it would’ve been different if everyone had been told to stay anonymous as opposed to logging in, and vice versa. In my opinion based on my observations, I believe that everyone staying anonymous would have led to more free flowing ideas than there already were because people would not have been worried about the opinions of their peers.
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.
The combined essay was anew experience for me, for I had never utilized google docs with that many people logged in at the same time. It was an interesting experience seeing people correct grammar and other mistakes made by students. One of the things that stuck out to me was the final product. We began with a document that had questions and instructions, and ended with one that had multiple paragraphs for a single question. I viewed this transition as being similar to our society’s development in technology. We began with instructions telling us to do something (e.g. create a social media site, make friends more accessible) and a blank page. From there our society took many different inputs (representing students)and fixed errors where there were any. We may have begun with different paragraphs about to deal with technology, but we end up with a more polished version of what we started. Our essay was not perfect , I doubt any were, and neither is technology. It is all a process of writing, checking the writing, and either keeping it or changing it.
One of the comments that stuck out to me the most would definitely have to be a student ,mentioning a Buzzfeed article, stating that “sometimes we don’t need data to tell us when we are happy, or full, or slept well. We just know when those things happen to us.” While I do agree with this statement, I would like to propose the viewpoint that this “knowing” is under appreciated and will soon cease to exist. I’m certain that there are biological ways to explain the emotions that we feel, but I think our mentality is perhaps the most important indicator of such feeling. If we value the ability to feel happy and know that we are happy, then we will continue to experience this. However, if we do not value it then it does not become useful to us. Many modern day humans are beginning to value the numbers more than the experience, and thus will lose the ability to “know” their emotions. Numbers are increasingly becoming such a big aspect of our lives, and the quantified self has aided this process. People want to see numbers. The number is a sort of validation of their existence and gives them feelings of certainty. Any person could easily say that they are happy, or that they are not, and this can be disputed. If there are numbers that tell us “heart rate increasing, you are happy/excited” then this feeling cannot be disputed. My argument goes back to the saying “use it or lose it.” Sadly, I feel that people are no longer valuing the ability to feel emotion as often and will lose it. Yes, we can feel emotion, but for how long? Will there be a point where data is the only source of feeling? The near future will reveal the answer.
While I have worked on Google Docs for class projects and assignments in the past, yesterday’s exercise of a completely crowd-sourced, virtual essay was a first for me. Initially I was skeptical about how the process would work, and thought that it would either result in utter chaos or with individuals answering unrelated questions without any true collaboration. Despite being slightly overwhelming at times, I thought that overall the exercise was a positive one, and that contrary to what I thought would happen, there was a fair amount of virtual collaboration between individuals in crafting responses that naturally fit together. Additionally, at least in the A-K document, there was little interaction using Google Docs’ chat feature, and most of the edits seemed to occur somewhat organically. The overall exercise made me think of a virtual discussion based class, where a professor’s questions would be answered online and in real-time, with students able to comment on others’ posts and give other types of feedback remotely. Maybe this is the next step in eliminating the fear of speaking up in public that continues to be an issue for students. Another aspect of the crowd-sourced essay that I found interesting was the discussion that the A-K document group started below our responses. Those comments noted some similarities between the exercise and The Circle, namely the fact that everyone could observe and potentially monitor the other members’ level of participation. The discussion drew similarities between Google Docs and The Circle’s PartiRank program, but it also expanded further and highlighted the potential for other uses of individual’s data, much like how Eggers presents some of the innovations in the novel. Specifically, someone brought up the point that Google could analyze one’s writing style and sell it to colleges and hiring agencies, presumably to build a more comprehensive profile for an applicant. Although these comments were extraneous to the overall objective of the assignment, it was interesting to get some realtime feedback from other participants. While the group was very aware of the connections between the exercise and Eggers’ novel, such an experiment would be interesting to conduct with people who are unfamiliar with The Circle and some of its major social implications.
In class on Tuesday, we discussed different forms of online mourning, and concluded that digital spaces enable affected individuals to connect with the deceased-and with other living people-on an equal plane. Whereas funerals occur once, take place in a set location, and are often closed ceremonies, digital memorial sites (whether Facebook pages, Legacy.com, or online archives) can be constantly revisited and revised. One of these places we explored, “Our Marathon,” resonated with me especially because I am from Boston and have experienced spectating at the Marathon both before and after the events of 2013.
I have my “JFK Moment” from when I heard about the bombing; I was in the Chic-Fil-A in Huntersville and had just ordered a sandwich when a New York Times notification appeared on my phone. I first checked with my friends at home who would have likely been at the race to make sure they were okay. Thankfully, they all were. I did not know any of the four people who died from the bombing, nor did I directly know anybody who was injured, outside of mutual friends. Yet I felt some sort of attachment to the story and still do. Today, the site is relatively unmarked. The two explosion locations have been cleaned, and makeshift memorials have been placed in city archives. “Our Marathon” thus becomes a place where mourning lives on. I was affected by the event, but never would have been invited to the funerals of any of the victims. Thus, private grieving would be closed to me. Nevertheless, I still feel connected to what happened; to think that someone from New Mexico or France wouldn’t be as connected as be simply because of their area code is shortsighted. Such platforms allow the plane of grief to be leveled between all people. Tragedies bring people together; how can media help unite differences in times of happiness as well?
During our class discussion about online versus offline mourning, my table came across a post on the 9/11 memorial website in which someone claimed that their three year old son was very much impacted by the fall of the World Trade towers, since just a day before he had built two towers out of food cans. This strange posting on the website led to discussion at our table about the lengths people seem to go to in order to connect themselves to a tragic event during times of mourning, and how online mourning can facilitate this desire.
Several months ago, one of my high school classmates was killed by another of my high school classmates. The event certainly shocked many people of the community, including not only those who were close friends with the victim, but also acquaintances who may have only met him a few times. His Facebook page became a type of memorial, where people posted about the great guy he was and memories they shared with him. It was strange to see people who barely knew the victim making long, mournful posts on his Wall. I even remember pondering whether I too should post something. Though I had not spoken to him for several years, I felt that I wanted to be a part of mourning. Ultimately, Facebook provided a platform for me to publicly be apart of this shocking community event even though I barely had any kind of connection to it.
This summer, I saw a documentary on Netflix called The Woman Who Wasn’t There about a woman who desperately wanted to be a part of not only the 9/11 mourning, but also the event itself. Though most of the story took place in an offline environment, I feel that this documentary captures the feelings I have attempted to express in this post. I found it a fascinating tale, and would highly recommend it. Below, I have embedded the movie trailer.
Database visualization seems to be particularly relevant to discussion about life and death represented through digital media. Nick Gagnon made an interesting observation through his analysis of Jonathan Harris’ Whale Hunt. Gagnon notes that he was initially inclined to interpret the way the data were visualized to represent excitement in the photo series or death of the whale, only to realize after investigation that “spikes” in the visualization connoted frequency of photos over time.
Gagnon’s observations highlight how subjective observation and experience of database representation can be. In class, we touched on the fact that that Adobe’s Flash standard is used to codify the digital information of Harris’ work. Because users are asked to install Flash software to properly compile and represent the work they are able to see it largely as Harris intended, but viewed critically one could call Harris only one “reader” of his own work in the post-structuralist tradition. He can say that his narrative can only be represented in one way, but one can argue that if his work is understood of as a database, it can be represented in many ways.
Flash rendering: narrative? database?
Is the source code for a program a valid representation for the data therein? If a programmer can visualize the code in her mind’s eye, does that constitute a narrative? These questions remind us that representation is a multifaceted process with many layers; equally important to the form of a work is its function.
In this post, I would like to respond briefly to Richard Hendrix’s Disintermediated Existence. The presence of internet creates public and private spaces for people to share experience, thoughts and emotions. It is truly the process of accumulating memories which are stored in digital form. People are free to participate the discussion about life and death, but meanwhile, they are creating their own memories, perspectives or personalities. In this process of disintermediation and de-aggregation of information, people are making their own “democratized creation” in various ways.
Another great example is Jonathan Harris’s The Whale Hunt. The entire week’s record constructed with photos can be a database itself. But through the narrator’s point of view and the clear time-line, it also tells a story and represents a collection of memories of many others. Does it objectively reflect what has happened during that week? Or at least, the point-of-view of the narrator? Since the representation of things happen in real life can be deemed as certain forms of productions, how do we define or differentiate what is genuine and true from what is embellished or even fabricated? It is certainly very interesting that someone brought this up in class today.
After all, how people interpret the information provided just like how they judge things around with their own values. This resonates with Ryan’s perspective of the social norm on the internet. The question that Ryan asks at the end is thought-provoking,
“Are the things you read on the internet really expressing both sides to the story or is the content inhibited by social norms?”
I also want to raise a question: do the things people put down to represent their perspectives online really represent what they are?
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.
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.
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…