Teenagers and Smart Phones at Night

When my 16 year old son was born, about 5% of the global population population was online. 5% seemed a lot more than I would have guessed at the time. Today my son and I are part of the 50% that are connected. That seems a lot less than I would have guessed today.

Sleeping with the Modem

This drastic change in technological take up was helped greatly by the release of the iPhone in 2007. Since then they have become the most popular consumer device ever made. 91% of us would never leave home without one. I think that my son did very well to hold off getting a smart phone until last year. He made up for it though. We currently sleep with the modem in our bedroom at night because he cannot seem to bring himself to switch off and go to sleep. As you can imagine this is causing difficulties.

Switched on, earbuds in, getting off

I don’t blame him. If I was a teenager today I would be glued to a phone. I was a library kid so I find information entertaining, even the educational stuff. I liked reading so much that my parents were concerned that it would affect my studies. They were right. I got overtired and I stopped attending school because I thought that I knew better. Apart from reading, I also listened to music. I had a device for music (walkman) and a device for reading (book). I felt connected to others through them, but in a very vague secondary way. My son has a device that offers total immersion and direct communication. He has it configured in a way that it represents his private identity. He is switched on, earbuds in and getting off on a world of external stimulus. I would rather he voluntarily put it down than I physically take it from him.

Insight, foresight, more sight

Even for adults, it is very hard to detach from that always on world.  Reality is richer but it is a hard sell against the promise of something new and magical with the swipe of a finger. Visit any play park and you will see parents with one eye on their phones. The other eye scans the land every now and again to see that their kids are somewhere close by and unharmed. Many kids say that they have to compete with their parents phones to get attention. Neither are we demonstrating best behaviour to young people, apart from the President of the United States of America who seems to be the only one capable of running the world and a twitter account at the same time. That is why he is the President! It is new and nobody really knows the effect it is having on us. We are still in the flying blind period, like the good old 1950s when the dogs on the street knew that smoking was causing cancer but we were too busy to worry about it and hey, don’t even kids do it so it can’t be bad for you? In fact, when I was in college studying information, this was the big growth area, studying the effect of the internet on people.

We have access to everything now. I think that is a bigger problem than the actual content we access. It is often shallow and meaningless and easily forgotten. When I have access to everything my expectations change. I get impatient. I get edgy if I have to wait. It is like putting a big creamy doughnut on my desk when I am on a diet. Sure, planning global movements becomes easier, but meeting friends downtown becomes a logistical nightmare. These are devices that suck our attention like Dementors and distract us even when they are not even switched on. I swear my phone calls to me personally. How cool is that? I love my phone, but it tires me out and I need to take breaks from it. If I am in a good space I use it to amplify my good feelings. If I am in a not so good space, I distract myself from the negativity. That can seem like a win-win but sometimes I need to face my bad feelings in order to let them go.

Everyone is doing it

My son is a teenager. Facing life’s problems and controlling his impulsive nature is not high on his agenda. He sleeps when his eyes shut, eventually, not at a time that a middle aged man thinks it is suitable. I mean, come ON man! I’m just a worrier.  I see the growth in youth mental health problems.  Experience allows us to see all the problems that can possibly arise. Depression, low self esteem, poor coping methods, impatience, constant pressure, sedentary lifestyles, disconnection. All he sees is that he is being stopped from connecting with his friends when we switch off the WiFi at midnight. The one thing that makes him feel better in the whole rotten world.  Not fair. Besides. Everyone else is doing it.

Only connect

Everyone else is doing it. There is no going back. The toothpaste will not go back into the tube. If anything, we are headed in the direction of more connection. I work with people who have never known a world that was not magically connected and convenient. They are tireless workers, not the lazy arse generation that we are led to believe. They will get tired though. Everyone does. It will be harder to disconnect. It is already viewed as a rare occurrence, a special occasion. If there are costs associated with our desire for digital connection, we are willing to deal with them, after we figure out what they are. Perhaps then will be the time to stop and reflect, when we are old and tired.

Ground Rules

Like parents have always done I will set sensible ground rules – no phones at table, no phones after midnight, get the feck outside and get some fresh air. Like all teenagers since the dawn of rock n’ roll, my son will ensure that I truly learn patience, persistence and compassion. There is no app for that.

Notes
“Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity,”Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos, Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2, no. 2 (April 2017): 140-154.

Mobile Phones in the Bedroom: Trajectories of Sleep Habits and Subsequent Adolescent Psychosocial Development, L Vernon, KL Modecki, BL Barber – Child Development, 2017 – Wiley Online Library

Adolescent problematic social networking and school experiences: the mediating effects of sleep disruptions and sleep quality. L Vernon, BL Barber…

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Closing the Circle

Imagine a world where all your social media profiles and online identities have been merged with personal information into one TruYou by a global company called The Circle. Imagine the freedom. No more identity theft. No more toxic keyboard warriors hiding behind anonymity. No more signing in and out. No more having to reset passwords because you forgot them again. No more Google/Apple/Facebook/Paypal jockeying. Just merge the whole lot. The last time I checked I have 106 online sites which require log in and password details and that does not include any that I use for work or any traditional personal platforms (social security etc).

Babies and deaconesses at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton, Kansas, 1915

This is bigger than me though. Imagine that this company has a vision to crowdsource solutions to all of life’s problems. SeeChange are tiny live stream video cameras that were originally used by surfers to discover which waves were firing on any given day. With The Circle’s global push and boundless positivity they can be mass produced and used for everything from recording police brutality to allowing disabled children to see what it is like to climb Everest. Instantly crime drops and the world explodes with promise and possibility. This is a company that harnesses the best ideas and makes them accessible to all. Super!

Image from page 251 of "Bell telephone magazine" (1922)
What else can this company do? How about using real-time medical data to eliminate health problems as soon as the warning signs appear? Wouldn’t it be great if a company like this could access the world’s finest health services. How about ChildTrack – a biochemical trace implanted in the bone which will end child abductions and the billions of worried parents afraid to let their kids out to play anymore. If anyone is foolish enough to try and engage in criminal behavior anymore they will soon be caught using an app which connects with the hive mind to identify deviants (SeeYou). Once children reach a certain age ChildTrack becomes TruYouth which is a sort of junior TruYou that gathers all their social data and gets them ready for responsible adulthood.

Children riding a horse to school, Glass House Mountains

While we are at it, why not connect TruYou with automatic voting registration which would increase direct democracy once and for all (Demoxie)? Imagine politicians who sign up to use their tech to become transparent, getting rid of the whiff of corruption that we complain about. In our spare time we can use all this data to figure out what restuarant to go to on a first date (LuvLuv) and pay for it with CircleMoney.

Not sure about PartiRank though. Imagine an algorithm that personalises your online presence based on the popularity of the connections you make. That would never catch on. I can see where that could cause problems. The one way to create unhappiness for humans is to compare them against each other.

personalisation

 

This is the world of new Information Professionals like Mae and Annie. How awesome would a job in The Circle be? Doing something like Customer Experience where it is all about engaging with an audience. The latest cool bands queue up to play for you during your break. Top chefs create delightful lunches. It is the type of job that you don’t want to leave, even at home-time. Why would you when your every interest is encouraged even if you fancy counting the grains of sand in the Sahara or diving into personal genealogy (PastPerfect).

My God” says Mae, “it’s heaven” are the opening lines in this book by Dave Eggers. All you have to give up is access to your data. It’s not like it’s your soul. Of course, The Circle is dystopian fiction about a 21st century totalitarian global organisation. It is nothing like the world we live in.  People in The Circle’s world are always under observation through the internet and this is where the tension comes from. They feel this constant pressure to respond, to engage, to participate, to share. This is the new conformism. They either submit to the role or they buckle under the pressure and react dramatically (drive off cliffs or collapse into exhausted comas). If there are no limits to transparency where does that leave our private lives? Will toilets become the only places where we can escape Big Brother? The endgame of this logic is where even personal thoughts become visible to all.

The Fifties in 3D
The Circle is an interesting book in that it generates more discussion about its form than its content. As literary criticism, that is not a bad complaint and one could argue that Eggers was just mirroring the world of the internet. People say it is heavy-handed and one dimensional but so was Brave New World and 1984. Eggers does tip his hat to Orwell with his tripytich of organisation slogans that are used in The Circle.

Ironically enough, the only reason I read it was because I managed to take a break from social media and got my hands on the book in my local library. I enjoyed it just as much I enjoy most fictions that make me think about my relationship with organisations that offer me free stuff in return for just a constant supply of data that they can sell to advertisers.

Zing part – when Annie and Mae miscommunicate over text messages. Oh how I lolled.

Hope for the future symbolism part – when Mae paddles out to Blue Island and discovers a nest in a tree but refrains from looking inside because she knew that it would have negative consequences.

Best review – “This book is not very good but you should read it” – some dude on GoodReads

orwell quote

What did you think of it?

 

 

 

 

Alone Together

In this blog I tend to concentrate on the benefits of the internet and the networked culture that it has spawned.  However, the reason why I started the blog was because I was aware that digital life is not without its negatives.  So I was eager to read Sherry Turkle’s new book Alone Together (How we Expect more from Technology and Less from each other). At its centre is the old question of whether technology is deterministic or non-deterministic. Does it control us or are we in charge? A trained psychoanalysist who specialises in technology, Sherry Turkle has been studying the effects of digital objects on humans for 15 years and Alone Together is the result of her interviews.  The first half of Alone Together is concerned mostly with robotics and looks at how they are used to simulate caring. She discusses everything from Furbies to robot caregivers for the elderly. The second half of the Alone Together is what interested me as it looks at the networked culture. The argument about what technology wants is central to this book. Turkle argues that the networked culture is a simulation and the purpose of all simulations is immersion.

Technology traps us

Technology traps us

This comes with a price. The people that she interviews are all connected now. They stay in touch with who they want but they find that they are always waiting for something new. As Turkle says “Moments of more leave us with lives of less”. Central to immersion in the internet is identity. We all like to think that we are our authentic selves on social media but the subjects of Alone Together obviously worry about what they leave out and what they put in on each of their profiles. My own job as a digital marketer revolves around maintaining these different identities. It is like a performance that spills over into real-life. The argument that real life is just as much a performance is not the point. Yes, we all create separate identities (employees, club members, family dynamics etc) but the internet has a new speed that is relentless.

Social Collection Space

Social Collection Space

Technology also effects our ideas of space. In the past we had communal spaces but now we have what Turkle calls “social collection spaces”. I see this every day where I work. Youth hostels used to be traditional communal spaces. Now they are full of young people on small screens connecting with people far away while ignoring those closest to them.  I wonder what part of Ireland these young French and German travellers are experiencing while they are chatting to their schoolfriends back in their hometowns. I remember when I first left home and experienced London – that sense of having to find my feet on my own without the usual supports. It was scary and exhilarating. I was cut off. Do people experience that anymore? There is a downside to missing that experience. In the past communities would spring up when people felt alone and abandoned. There was a shared need. Yes, the internet is full of communities now but they are communities of weak ties. How many of us really depend on all the people in our social media communities?

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Being connected also has an effect on time. The internet gives us the illusion that we have more time by giving us whoever and whatever we want. Being human, this allows us to escape ourselves. In the past we often came to the realisation that no matter where we went, there we were. We had to face ourselves. Not now. Now we can escape by just taking the phone out of our pockets. We check our messages in bed before we go to sleep. When we are not escaping we are doing the other extreme, multitasking.

In the past, doing one thing well was the sign of mastery. Now multitasking is considered a successful attribute.  We measure ourselves by the number of emails answered, by the speed of work. We click harder, faster, despite the fact that we know it does not make us better. We get that illusion of creating more time. It reminds me of that old saying “Doing the wrong thing with more intensity rarely improves the situation”. We can be busy fools, chasing wifi signals. All the time we look longingly at slow movements. We want to switch off but feel guilty. We desperately seek time to think, to reflect. When we do switch off we feel naked. Alone Together makes the suggestion that we are the internet’s killer app.

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We want connection and the internet promises us it. Young people desperately seek it from parents who are there in space but not present. We also fear real connection. Intimate and authentic connection requires vulnerability. That seems too dangerous now. We send our kids out with mobiles so we can get in touch with them should that vulnerability turn into trouble. We never let them deal with boredom. When I left home, I often had to navigate through those situations. I gained independence that way. I took chances.  I searched for things that I did not know I wanted until I found them. I made mistakes.

Turkle uses the example of phone calls to demonstrate how we fear vulnerability. Given the choice most of us will text or email or IM. We can edit our responses that way.  Everything carries that strange premeditation that promises time but delivers only confusion. Phone calls are reserved for special or stressful interactions. Phones do not allow us to hide or to wait for empty silences to pass. We need to use those complex signallings to fully understand each other. In my own family we laugh about our peculiar way of saying goodbye on the phone (Goodbye, good luck, g’luck, g’luck now, g’luck…) but very few people learn how to close off a conversation comfortably anymore. Everything is an arrangement to meet at a later time.

Letter writing is another example of the change. I was a prolific letter writer growing up. I had cousins around the world that I wrote to and each of them would get a hand crafted missive every few months written specifically for them. I blog now, but I blog for everyone. The audience is different and the expectations of interaction are different and so the content is different. It feels the same to me, but on reflection, it is not.

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Young people are growing up with the tyranny of everything being online about them now. I grew up not having to worry about being forgotten. Turkle points out that networked technology feels private. We sit in silence on our little screens but the whole public is there too. She refers to a Peter Pan shadow of data that follows us around now. There are obvious privacy issues with this but Turkle being a psychoanalysist, argues that it is more than the issue of having to hide wrong doings. It is healthy for young people to need a private space where they can dissent. Democratic societies need it. I found it sad to hear one young person look back to a past that never existed for them ” I miss those days even though I wasn’t alive”.

Despite this Turkle is optimistic about the future. She is quick to dismiss the addiction model to explain these new behaviours. That is too easy and it is not a helpful analogy. We cannot switch off the internet. It is essential for employment, play and learning about the world around us. There is no going back to Thoreau’s Walden. The way she explains it we have agreed to an experiment in which we are the human subjects. We have to realise that this experiment is in its early stages and we have a part to play in it besides mindless consumption. The best thing we can do is start to take the time to reflect on how it is effecting us.

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Two studies stood out for me in Alone Together and made me stop and think. The first was an ongoing study by the University of Michigan since the 1970s measuring empathy scores of their students. It appears there is a 40% drop in students who classify themselves as caring about others.  Also, studies of life loggers are showing that there is a tendency to lose the curiosity we have about the details of our lives. Everything is recorded, tagged and archived but it feels like we are missing the point of it somewhat. Neither of these findings bode well for the future and I found reading Alone Together to be a sad experience. It did make me reflect on my own digital media use and that has to be a good thing.

Further Reading

What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell & Jim Gemmell, 2009

The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our Brains – Nicholas Carr, 2010

Empathy: College Students don’t have as much as they used to

Organising Information

One of the reasons I got interested in Library Studies was because I wanted to find the correct way to organise information. In the old days, I worked as a tour manager. Keeping track of lots of different projects and timelines at once was my bread-and-butter. I did all of my work offline. I had master books, diaries, plans, maps, notebooks, folders, post-its and assorted filing cabinets. All tried and tested methods of organising information for quick retrieval.

Looking back on it, I find it hard to believe that I was working that way up until 2007. That is not to say that these methods were in any way inferior from their online counterparts. Far from it. I just find it amazing that things have changed so much in such a short time. I had heard of Excel and Email back then but they were for the deskbound rather than someone on the road. Being mobile in 2007 was quite different to today. However, I did know that change was coming and when I began to look at a career change, the organisation of digital information drew me in.

Photographer Thomas J. Wynne, 1838-1893 by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, on Flickr found here

Photographer Thomas J. Wynne, 1838-1893 by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, on Flickr found here

I was disappointed when I discovered that there is no right or wrong way to organise information. I learned this in my first Information Retrieval class in SILS when each group of us classified an article about The Beatles music while the other groups tried to retrieve it using what they thought were relevant search terms. As you can imagine, how people divide up their lives has a lot of bearing on how they assess information. This was the wonderful dance between context, relevance and aboutness that has kept search engines from becoming completely predictable.  There is no perfect way to organise information. At best, all I can hope for is an efficient method that at least I can understand. For me, consistency is the key.

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the Dance of the Rebirth from... by New York Public Library, on Flickr found here

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the Dance of the Rebirth by New York Public Library, on Flickr found here

My own personal info-organising and retrieval behaviour is what Barreau and Nardi (1995) call location based browsing. I will not use in-built search unless I cannot find what I am looking for. Whether it is a physical library with stacks and shelves or a virtual folder and file system, I recognise where I am when I get there. While some might think that this is the old male “why-won’t-he-stop-and-ask-for-directions” cliche, browsing is different to map-reading. A lot of the time I find information because it is grouped with similar information. I like information to be organised so that I can see how it is connected. Visual hierarchies like Pearltrees and Symbaloo (which I have blogged about before here) are good examples of this. So too are library maps. I can jump into stacks or branches and browse pretty quickly to what I am looking for. Barreau & Nordu agreed that this was a common search behaviour among both new and experienced searchers. However, when it came to my Information Hunt projects in university,  I was told that locating medical books through synchronicity and gut feeling was not a dependable search strategy. I agree, but sometimes books just jump out at you.

Man searching for lost item in fountain from Stockholm Transport Museum on Flickr, found here

Search strategy from Stockholm Transport Museum on Flickr, found here

What I have found is that information organisation has to be practical and pragmatic.  My strategy for storing information is simply to pile it into hierarchies. This allows me to chunk my information and navigate in different directions (up-down or sideways) as I need. I have experimented with numerous different ways and means of organising my own files and folders and what works for me is that I organise according to use. In most of my information systems my first level folders are divided into current or archived.

I am a weekly cleaner-outer of files and I know the working week is really done when I sort my current folder. I like to archive at the end of every working week and then open up my current folder to get ready for each new week. I also tend to work on a lot of stuff that I don’t even know what it is going to turn into until it is done. This means that anything that is in my archived folder has usually got its aboutness as tied down as it is going to be. As a browser, having a folder where I can see everything that I am working on is my holy grail.

Student in the library, 1981 by LSE Library, on Flickr, found here

Student in the library, 1981 by LSE Library, on Flickr, found here

 

I divide my second level hierarchies by ownership as Boardman & Sasse (2004) suggest. Was the information created for business?  Is this my personal stuff (e..g. drafts, random thoughts, creations)? Does this belong to someone else (e.g. articles, downloads etc)? This is my main way of remembering information. Someone gave it to me or I made it or I made it for a very specific business purpose. Finally, I create another level of folders so that I can store files by file type. I tend to know if I am looking for an image or an excel sheet or a text page so this is how I like to have it laid out. I can mirror this structure across different web tools (Evernote. Google Drive etc) with very little adaption (apart from email which has different requirements because it is about personal communication and that can get a bit complex).

Here is a rough breakdown of the decision making process involved in classifying my information down as far as the first level.

information flow

Rough diagram

Sources

Barreau, D. & Nardi, B. (1995). Finding and reminding: file organization from the desktop. SIGCHI Bulletin, 27(3), 39-43.

Boardman, R. & Sasse, M.A. (2004). ‘Stuff goes into the computer and doesn’t come out’: a cross-tool study of personal information management. CHI Letters, 6(1), 583-590.

Khoo, C., Luyt, B., Ee, C., Osman, J., Lim, H.H. & Yong, S. (2007). How users organize electronic files on their workstations in the office environment: a preliminary study of personal information organization behaviour. Information Research, 12(2), paper 293 [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/12-2/paper293.html]

 

 

Anonymity

When I was a teenager I predicted the importance of identity and anonymity to the internet. The Internet were a dark brooding guitar band from a small village in the middle of nowhere. Identity was a new wave solo artist that was influenced by David Bowie and 17th century Parisian fashion. Anonymity was a hip-hop duo that mixed voodoo beats with disconnected samples. They were imaginary bands that I created in the days P.I. (Pre-Internet) for my parallel Top 40 that I would dream up when I was bored (which as anyone from P.I. days will remember was a condition that happened quite a lot).

Image Credit - Flickr Nationaal Archief

Image Credit – Flickr
Nationaal Archief

 

The point I am trying to make is that I always had a flexible approach to identity. In English classes I wrote essays in a voice that did not sound like me at all. An authentic voice was something that creative artists constructed if they wanted to win the Nobel prize for literature. Dropping and mixing identity was something that I enjoyed doing. It was a form of play for me and I still use it as a lens to view the world, even if it is only in the naming of a blog as Information Agent. It gives me a freedom to say things that I might never explore. Some of us just prefer that sort of communication to the more instant face-to-face method.

This ability to create identity and set different levels of anonymity is part of what makes the internet such an interesting space. Few principles cause as much polarisation as privacy. If there will ever be a Cyber civil war, you can be sure that the flags of privacy and anonymity will be flapping about there in the middle of the conflict.  How people interpret and define the level of online anonymity that they are comfortable with seems to mark them out in much the same way as Nationalism did at the turn of the 20th century. Like Nationalism, people use it for setting boundaries and limits and it can be used in a variety of ways.

Image Credit - Flickr National Archives of Australia

Image Credit – Flickr
National Archives of Australia

Like myself,  I know plenty of students who came out of second level education without great social skills. Online collaboration allowed us to blossom.  Before I took to Twitter seriously I chanced my arm as an online neolithic stone mason in the Boyne Valley. This was a collaborative project with another archaeology student. At one level we wanted to explore what it was like to put ourselves in the shoes of a person from the past, but I think a lot of it was just messing around with online characters. I also had a Tumblr account that was curated by an Edwardian Gentleman Explorer.  Nor is it all about fun and games. I use anonymous forums when I need information that gets too close to my own personal boundaries.  They allow me to explore my own uncomfortability in a safe way.  In parts of the world where it can be hazardous to speak freely, online anonymity allows people to  fight censorship and spread word of human rights violations. Real life undercover agents (whether they are military or anti-criminal) are able to protect their anonymity to ensure that they cannot be tracked. All good stuff.

However, whenever there is a way of expressing yourself without impunity, there can be trouble. Online anonymity is perfect for attacking others. You can say what you want and not have to take responsibility for it. Just look at the comments section of online newspapers. There is something about this freedom which turns the guy next door into a troll who thrives on rising arguments to nuclear level. Researchers have found that online anonymity definitely effects how people comment online. Just last night my daughter received a scary message from an anonymous profile called “Chucky” on one of her game website profiles which was warning her not to go to sleep at night. Luckily we knew that this was her cousin trying to wind her up and she will receive a lecture in return when I get home from work.

Image Credit - Flickr

Image Credit – Flickr

People want their online privacy, for all kinds of reasons. I have friends who refuse to have anything to do with social media. Growing up in small towns makes you highly sensitive to other people knowing your business. It can feel like a sort of control. Some people don’t like the idea of commercial companies using their personal information. Some just want their privacy, not because they have anything to hide, but because they feel it is their right.  All it takes is for one group to figure out how to use your information against you and you are in trouble. This is what happened to the Dutch jews when the Germans arrived and found a perfectly good archive system in place which identified each person by religious persuasion. That was the end of their freedom.

When money is involved, there is just as much at stake. I trade my own personal information in return for access to Google’s index. I am willing to do that, but not everybody is. My online behaviour is measured and scrutinised as if I were a lab mouse. Apparently, companies can learn a lot by running a few mice through mazes a couple of million times a day in return for an information hit. All I know is that this somehow allows Ryanair to put up the price of a flight after I have researched it. In this case, my personal information is tracked and connected to personal identifiers and I lose out because of it.

Image Credit - Flickr Smithsonian Institute

Image Credit – Flickr
Smithsonian Institute

Some people have a healthy dislike of that sort of carry-on. When Janet Vertasi learned that she was pregnant, she did not want marketers targetting her with their products. This behaviour was considered so unusual that the NSA were alerted about her attempts to evade tracking. When I was studying Information in university, one of my fellow students felt so strongly about his personal privacy that he used TOR, the same channel that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden used to leak classified information.  This is a Virtual Private Network which was created by the military to help undercover agents and whistleblowers avoid capture. Although it is now funded by the EFF and it uses voluntary servers to encrypt identity instead of information, even this may not allow real anonymity. The NSA have already hacked TOR once and many of the sites on the dark web that it accesses are supposed to be honeypots for catching criminal and malicious activity.

Image Credit - Flickr National Media Museum

Image Credit – Flickr
National Media Museum

On the whole I give privacy and anonymity a bit of thought. I try to be conscious of what I share online. I grew up P.I. but my kids have a different experience. They have their own Youtube channels. I try to teach them that it is unusual to be permanently in front of an audience and that this can effect how they behave. It is a highly filtered (created, edited and amplified) experience and can be as unreal as an imaginary rock band. As someone once said on Twitter, anonymity is no longer a way to hide who you are, it is now a way to be who you are.

 

Notes

University of Houston. “Researcher finds anonymity makes a difference with online comments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2014. .

 

Editing Wikipedia

I grew up with Encyclopedias. It was my job to look after them in our house. We had a black Collins 1973 set with gold lettering which moved around the house as my father constantly redecorated. The L- M had a piece of its binding torn, but I loved it for the way it broke the set in two on the shelf. One of them had its flyleaf desecrated with red crayon circles from my little sister. There was a complete cross section of the human body on layered glossy see-through pages. Each page had a seperate part of the human system, the circulation, reproductive, endocrine, digestive and so on, all in high gloss colour and it was like peeling a body away like an onion. It was enough to turn me into some psychopath but my heart was taken by the myths and legends collection which came with it. Stories, tales, fairy dreams and folk oddities from all over the world captured my imagination and would not release it.
I remember the Yearbook had a lot about Richard Nixon in it and it was strange to grow up reading about this guy and then hearing adults talk about Eamonn De Valera so much. That confused me, but it was nothing that rearranging the encyclopedias could not solve. They were authoritative, organised and linked but I wasn’t one of those kids that bowed at the altar of the encyclopedia. Subject headings, indexes and alphabetical arrangements became my manual of style but I would just as easily turn the books on their side and build walls of a fort with them. Of course, all that is gone now, but I am still an encyclopedia kid.

Codex Seraphinius Luigi Serafini

Codex Seraphinius
Luigi Serafini

So I jumped at the chance to become a Wikipedian recently. I attended an editathon in the Science Lab recently about the Battle of Clontarf organised by 1014 Retold. I like Wikipedia. It became a part of my second age of information when I returned to study even if I always got it mixed up with wikileaks at the start. I think that was from too many lecturers starting off by saying that wikipedia was going to be the death of democracy or giving out about it somehow. I remember finally discovering that wikipedia was run by Jimmy Wales and I got him confused with Jimmy Cauty from The KLF and I remember thinking that fella, there is nothing he won’t do.

Rock n Roll Encyclopedias will never die

Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder and Rock n Roll crazy man

I like that wikipedia is not perfect. I like that anyone can edit it. I realise that it has a male bias and that the editors have gotten into trouble in the past with not being objective and acting as PR consultants for small countries, but nothing is perfect. Yes, people have engaged in revenge edits and edit wars but its accessiblity makes up for it. It is so easy to get information. The page design combines the layout of traditional encyclopedias with the simplicity of the google home page and everything of relevance is hyperlinked in the web structure that we know and love.

Image Credit - Creative Commons U.S. National Archives

Image Credit – Creative Commons
U.S. National Archives


I knew that you could edit a wikipedia page already, but an editathon is the ideal way to start. We had a real life wikipedian-in-residence from the Natural History & Science Museum in London, John Cummings, who walked us through the ins and outs of making edits to the Battle of Clontarf page. John has also created the Monmouthpedia which is an amazing idea to curate a whole town with QR codes and translate them into different languages for visitors to access. There were historians there aswell as people who were into the idea of information sharing (Open Knowledge Foundation). There was even a phd student who was studying why people edit wikipedia. Most of us were beginners but it did not take us long to get the hang of it. We learned how to use wikimarkup to format a page and we set about updating the history of the Battle of Clontarf for the 21st century. I found it to be an enjoyable way of practising information skills without any sort of real pressure.

Image Credit - Banksy

Image Credit – Banksy

Digital Romance

Image taken from page 605 of '[Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old. [E. M. Davies. With illustrations.]]'
This morning my feed was full of Valentines. Everything from cupcakes to a couple buried together in ancient Italy for romantic archaeologists. It got me thinking about romance on the internet. Specifically, the history of it, how it works and how it affects us. Of necessity, this will dip into sex but I am deliberately avoiding that as it would need a seperate blogpost.

Heart-shaped box
Technology promises freedom. Communication technology promises access. It connects people with information and people with people. In the old days you had to go to a brothel to look at erotica or to a temple to look at carvings. Now it can come to you. After the bible, romantic “fiction” was the next genre that drove the adoption of the printing press. In the 1800s, the telegraph was used for long-distance romance. In 1848, the first “online” wedding too place between a bride in Boston and a groom in New York. In the 20th century the car was the biggest technological advance which brought people together unsupervised. Those of us who still carry the light of the pre digital world will remember when contacting your loved one meant using a phone to ring the actual building where they lived and being put through to an adult guardian first. Amazingly, this worked surprisingly well.
Soldier's goodbye & Bobbie the cat, Sydney, ca. 1939-ca. 1945 / by Sam Hood

Information Behaviour
I come from generations of people that lived and died within the same geographical sod of land in a valley. People accessed information about other people through traditional gate-keepers. In some cases, this was a formal matchmaker. In other cases, the social system acted as a limit to how people met. Usually people found partners through school or work or friends of friends, like Google Plus on a local level. That would have been fine if those pesky kids just stopped progressing. We are now living in a world where geography does not have the same limit and where online social interaction is the norm. In our constantly-on world of status updates it is like we are communicating in the same place at the same time.

Information Retrieval
Online dating has exploded as a result of this. I have friends of a certain age who would have viewed online dating as a sad fad for the socially inept, but they now use online dating as easily as they used to pop into the pub to see who was out on a friday night. The stigma is gone. While the media like to focus on scare stories of stalkers and people who assume false identities (this happens offline too!), I know more and more people who met online and are happy. Like Google, you now have the ability to retrieve more relevant matches based on your search parameters and the playing field is wide open. Most dating sites use data to see who we are compatible with. Very efficient and scientific, if that is what you are looking for.

Unlimited Access
Not only can we find people that we were never able to before, we can also find more information about people. The problem with access to all this information is that we now have too much choice. Privacy is also another concern. While you can be more open and visible now (which is an essential part of relationships), there is more of a danger of your information being used against you. Sexting is an example of this as it gives rise to cyberbullying, blackmail and public shame. If this were purely a problem for unthinking young people it would be just a case of teaching them online etiquette. Unfortunately, according to a recent report by McAfee, 49% of adults have sent naked images of themselves to others.
Two women boxing

Death of Distance
While online dating is an obvious example of how the internet has impacted on romance, there are numerous platforms that allow people to explore relationships. Since the internet started, forums have been one of the main ways for people to connect and form communities of interest. They offer opportunities for people with niche interests to meet. They allow people to share about relationships issues in a very positive and educational way while also guarding anonymity. Snapchat was set up to counter the idealised online identity that many of us have on the internet. Posting nude pictures of yourself that self-destruct would probably achieve this. Chatroulette is something similar, an online chatroom that pairs strangers with random partners for web based conversations. It used to be was the hunting ground of young males until they introduced skin based filters and moderators which could block some of the more less salubrious material. Twitter has long ago had its first tweeted proposal and I remember one year sending my other half a facebook ad targetted specifically at her for Valentines Day (It didn’t work because she installed an ad-blocker!). Blogs are no stranger to being used for love. Research has shown that they are often used to allow people to create elaborate online fantasies. As the internet went mobile, so did romance with the use of location based apps such as Grindr and Blendr taking dating to the hyperlocal level.
Visit of the Chancellor of the University of London, HRH Princess Anne to the School, 8 May 1986

While I have only touched on a few aspects of online romance, we can see that it is alive and well in the internet age, driven by algorithms and desire. The question is will it add to our relationships or will it turn us into more isolated individuals.
Image taken from page 48 of 'Loving and Loth: a novel. By the author of “Rosa Noel,” etc. [Bertha De Jongh.]'