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

Outstanding in their fields – Liebster Award

My nominations for the Liebster award are all bloggers that explore the past.

Vox Hiberionacum
Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland
Building Mesolithic
Irish Archaeology Field School
The Accidental Archaeologist
Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae
Newgrange Currach
My Cartoon Version of Reality
Guerrilla Archaeology
The Urban Prehistorian
Irelands Holywells
Time Travel Ireland

liebster

Anyone who would like to accept the nomination can take part by answering the following questions (linking back to my blog) then in turn nominate 11 more blogs of your choice, posing your own questions. This is entirely optional!

1. How do you think blogging has benefited your personal/professional development?

2. What is the most recent heritage site you have visited?

3. What is your earliest memory of engaging with the material past?

4. Who inspires you (in archaeology land or otherwise)?

5. What is your favourite artefact/landscape/monument?

6. If you had a choice to live in a previous time, where and when would it be?

7. What is your biggest ambition?

8. Which piece of archaeology or heritage made you look at the world in a different way?

9. If there was a movie based in your favorite time, what would the soundtrack of it be?

10. Where are you most likely to be found on a day off?

11. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard?

 

 

Blog Award

This blog has been nominated for a Liebster Award courtesy of Helen kielt. Part one of that means that I have to answer a few questions.

1. How do you think blogging has benefited your personal/professional development?

This blog started as part of a digimedia course in university and I am really surprised that it is still going. I thought that I had no interest in blogging. I didn’t think that the world needed another one. I have three other blogs on the go but this is the most consistent. I did not mean it to be. I was using it as a reflective tool when I left college and I kept on running up against new platforms and tools that I needed to get my head around. That is still my main reason for blogging today. Along with reflection, I find the blog very good for networking with others in the information profession. I tend to blog about stuff which interests me but which does not fit in with the work or studies that I do. From connecting with other bloggers I began to see patterns and communities that opened up new areas for me. For instance, I never heard of digital storytelling until some of my blogposts started to get picked up by that community.

2. What is the most recent book you have read?

I read lots of non-fiction but I don’t consider that reading. That would be just looking for information. The last time I was in the library I probably picked up an archaeology book, a dummies guide to digital photography and a recipe book, because that is what I normally do. The last fiction book I remember reading was probably City of Bohane by Kevin Barry and it was wonderful. I really miss lying on a couch with a book and just feeling the world within the book settle down around my consciousness. I find it hard to read fiction in fits and starts, so I don’t bother unless I can be uninterrupted. This means that I don’t read much fiction anymore and that is ok because I spent enough of my youth lying on couches. When I am old and no longer need to know how to fix and explain things, I will catch up on all the cool books I am missing now.

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3. Describe yourself in three words.
reliable, pleasant, calm.

4. Who inspires you (in library land or otherwise)?

I recently watched a two hour video lecture on information by a teacher called Michael Wesch. I cannot believe that I sat through it. He had some very interesting things to say about information and he finished by talking about love as a method of teaching digital literacy.

5. Quote a line from a piece of prose/poetry that you love.

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different. – Kurt Vonnegut

6. If you could live for a time within any novel which would it be?

I would love to have lived in Tortilla Flats, the wine-drenched Californian peso community written about by John Steinbeck. They just lay about and cheated as much as they could, but in a very principled and honest way. Otherwise, for a change of pace, any dystopian science fiction novel would be fun for a while.

7. What is your biggest ambition?

To live by the sea.

8. Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Hugh Laurie

9. What song(s) would be on the soundtrack to that movie?

For the night travel scenes, anything from Music for a Jilted Generation by the Prodigy. In the bit where I learn how to send an email, anything by Underworld apart from Born Slippy. The rest of the movie soundtrack would be taken care of by Esbjorn Svennson Trio except for the slo-mo sad bit which would have a classic 50s doowop girl band in the background and which would be rereleased to great success, albeit too late for the girls.

10. Where are you most likely to be found on a day off?

Sitting on a surfboard in the west of Ireland if I could, but most likely sorting out the wash basket upstairs.

11. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard?

Do what you say you will do

Bluebird of Happiness

When I first heard of Twitter, I figured that it couldn’t be that useful if it only worked on 140 characters. I neglected the power of the link. I stayed away from it for the last few years due to the fact that I did not have access to a smart phone. I did dip my toes into the stream just to see what the crack was but I got that disorientation that is common among new users and I skedaddled out of there. Not before I did a bit of experimentation with it though. Myself and an archaeologist friend set up a twitter account for a Stone Age entrepeneur from the Boyne Valley (@neilolithic) just to take a phenomenological approach to daily life in the neolithic, but it was too time consuming and too much of an imaginative leap for us on a daily basis. I left it for a while but got back to the platform lately as a result of work wanting me to connect their Facebook page with a Twitter account. twitter-bird So, where did Twitter appear from? It was created by Jack Dorsey in 2006, in an effort to allow software engineers working on a project to let each other know what they were up to at any given time so they would not have to interrupt their work. It is primarily a communication and collaboration tool inspired by SMS and Livejournal. It took Dorsey two weeks to build. Unlike more traditional companies, these software engineers had a background in the open source movement and they instantly began to share it with their friends. This blurring of the boundaries between work and personal life is one of the changes that social media platforms have brought. Not only was it important that they share what they were working on, but also what flavour pizza they were eating was thrown into the mix. It is this extra flavour which, in my opinion, allows people to join conversations and make connections. These connections allow ideas to spread much faster than traditional avenues. The impact of Twitter on politics was apparent during the Arab Spring risings and it has the possibility to bring more transparency into areas that are usually hidden from people, although that is claimed of most communication channels before they are controlled. There is, of course, a Twitter ads section so the company can make money, but I have no experience of that. One of its greatest assets is that it is free so far.

So, why use Twitter? Apart from politics, pizza and marketing, what else can you use it for? Is it all pointless babble? It can be, if that is what floats your pooh-stick. At the moment, I am using it to create a Personal Learning Network (PLN). By using hash tags, not only can I get a stream of consciousness from @darraghdoyle about #spf13, I can also follow experts at #aslib conferences,  #irelibchat or #edchatie to stay abreast of developments in the areas that I am interested in. I also use it to search and store information through the use of favourites. It gives me a global and local perspective on issues. I needed to research the Maker Space movement recently and I could follow as a group of coders used Twitter to get going in Meath while they spoke to their counterparts around the country. I can get instant feedback, instant news and most importantly, be part of the conversation. For example, I got connected to the wonderful @HurdyGurdyRadio who sent me some fantastic links to podcasts and from following their conversations I picked up on the LIS netvibes resource and @mishdalton, the Irish library mover/shaker and Twitter power user. In a sense, it is crowd sourced curated information and I like the synchronicity that can come with that rather than googlebots assigning relevance to content.

As for linking Facebook with Twitter at work, I decided not to in the end. They are two different platforms and involve different styles of conversation. A Facebook page is kind of like a shop owner standing at the door of their shop talking to you about the weather or the latest news. Twitter is more like a bunch of people talking between themselves. They might be talking about the shop, but chances are they are talking about something completely different, and this where Twitter throws up some gems. My favourite so far was the astronaut tweeting from space who was replied to by William Shatner, Mr Spock and Buzz Aldrin.

What  interesting ways have you noticed Twitter being used?

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Image Credit – http://mashable.com/2013/01/17/twitter-expands-its-certified-products-program/

A bit of competition never hurt anyone?

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If you are like me, you will be fairly sick of facebook competitions. I find nothing worse than my feed being filled up with pictures of iPads as people share and like in an effort to get their hands on anything from spa treatments to round-the-world-trips.

Business is business though, so I wasn’t surprised when I had to create a facebook competition over the Christmas period. What I was surprised with was the rules and regulations that you have to follow in order to create a facebook competition. Here are some of the hoops you have to jump through.

1. You should use a third party app when creating a competition on facebook.

2. You cannot use any facebook options such as liking, sharing or posting status updates as entry requirements in a competition.

3. You cannot announce any winners in a facebook status update.

4. You must ensure that you have an announcement that Facebook is in no way connected to your competition.

The reason I found this so confusing is because these rules do not appear to be followed at all by most businesses. Every one of the facebook competitions I see in my feed are breaking these regulations in some way or another. This leaves the Information Professional with a bit of a dilemma. Ignore the regulations and do what everyone else is doing or look for ways of creating competitions while staying within the boundaries? This is where Information Professionals can help their organisation.

There are plenty of ways of creating competitions on facebook which will not leave your organisation in danger of having their facebook page deleted. Use of apps is one, as is the use of company websites or blogs. These can actually work out better for you because they are also driving traffic to your own site. Despite the proliferation of free-for-all competitions in my feed, organisations are having their pages deleted. We do not hear about them, but it is happening. Understandably, organisations do not want to talk about it. They are usually too busy trying to get their audience back again, which means starting from scratch.

So, next time you want to create a competition, put a little bit of thought into how to safeguard your audience while you are at it. Stay safe.

Facebook Page vs Profile

I like Fb. It got me into Information Studies. It is my preferred way of communicating, so I tend to just use it without thinking too much about it. This week I had to stop and examine it a bit more than I normally would. I was doing some work for an organisation and I wanted to have a look at their page, but they did not have one. Instead, they have a profile, and they were happy enough with their choice. They had a few reasons for this but the main was that it was taking them too long to build an engaged community so they took the easy route and started banging out friend requests.

Lots of companies do that, but I imagine that they will run into trouble. I have heard that Zuckerburg and his happy camp of friends will close you down as soon as they get round to it. With billions of users, some companies take the chance that they could hide with us sheeple. Now that Fb has to answer to shareholders I imagine that the pressure might be on to herd all their potential ad buyers onto the right side of the fence so they can subliminally influence the rest of us. I don’t usually like sticking up for giant organisations, but in this case, I agree with them.

Social networks are built on the concept of sharing. We like to share. We like to share with people who like to share. If some of that sharing involves the passing of goods and services aswell as information, then it is good that we can do this with the people that we share with. There are hundreds of tradesmen where I live, but when I need something done, I go to the people that I know, that I share a network with. I am ok with that.

What I am not ok with is a rat, and I can smell them. A rat is someone who lets on to be my friend but who just wants to get their paws on my goods. That is what profiles that should be pages makes me feel like.

http://ads.ak.facebook.com/ads/FacebookAds/Pages_Product_Guide_022712.pdf