In my previous post, I explored feelings that I’ve been struggling with, and the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world. I also began exploring the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers. I hope to continue writing about how we can easily become overwhelmed with technology and living a life continually connected, but as I started to write, I ended up with what is something of an aside – this post.
In my last post, I said that it is a brave new world for us as we become more deeply connected through a variety of technologies, with more seemingly developed everyday. In some ways, it is also starting to resemble something from George Orwell’s “1984”. The Wall Street Journal recently shared this image (click for an expanded version):
All of our online activity is tracked, recorded, mined, harvested, aggregated, compiled, analysed, bought and sold. All of this information is immeasurably valuable for advertisers and marketers, as they work to understand their target markers in an increasingly competitive and tough economic environment. All of our activity can provide valuable insight into our wants and needs, desires and dreams. Not only does it give impressions of our singular activities, but tracked over time, our digital and physical movements can provide better understandings of what drives us over a period of time. Aggregated together with everyone around us, this can paint quite a picture of our collective nature.
This information could be used for a multitude of purposes. This information is gathered at great expense so that we can more cunningly be advertised and marketed to, but it could also be utilized by planners, sociologists, psychologists, demographers, cartographers etc. to better understand our communities, societies, and ourselves. The potential for us all to gain understanding from this information is immense.
One thing I take from all of this is a certain sense of irony, that our Conservative government abolished the mandatory long form census, as it is too “invasive”. Even as private companies mine and harvest everything we do, gaining much more intimate information from us through the services they provide us. Even as government steps back, making it more difficult to provide services we pay a great deal of taxes for efficiently and effectively, private companies step forward to fill the void.
This is something we should all be conscious of, but I think we find much easier not to consider, as it is often joined with a sense of helplessness. Either we connect and provide aggregate data for companies, or cut ourselves from the services that we depend on. From an information science perspective, I find it very fascinating to have our physical and digital presences twinned and inspected, that a more complete picture of our existence can be mapped. For many, this kind of analysis can be very unnerving.
As I continue this series I’ll cover some of the highlights of William Powers’ book, starting with his explanation of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”, and also write about some strategies I’ve found as I work through finding balance between online and offline time.