For our observations, we sent out a survey on what students collected for the QS assignment and compiled the responses into several visualizations:
Finally, the link to our raw data
-Julia, Niall and Charles
As a result of increased corporate ownership of data, we are living in an era of Internet/social media addiction. We see this clearly demonstrated by the behaviors of the characters in The Circle, but is best explained by Mae’s ex-boyfriend, Mercer. “The tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. … It’s like snack food. … They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent.“ (134) In other words, what Circle creates isn’t something the cyber citizen necessarily needs, but something addictive. Although The Circle describes a fictitious and futuristic society, it is frightening that the characters’ behaviors resemble our actions now. Nowadays, we rarely separate ourselves from our phones, using them and our media outlets as a way to post and share our every move with our Facebook and Instagram networks. Whenever a significant event happens, like the Presidential Election, everyone suddenly becomes an expert on the subject, sharing their knowledge and insights on Twitter. Sharing Economy is the modern version of neo-panopticon, since everyone is watching (or at least capable or watching) everyone else under the rating metrics in this highly connected and autonomous marketplace. In a nutshell, the emergence of new ideas enabled by new technology has provided us with seamless simplicity and convenience, but has also deeply shaped our social behaviors and online culture. The development of technology and sharing-economy is so rapid that it’s impossible to imagine what will unfold in the next decade.
When the data self overtakes the embodied self, we lose the control of how we live our life. Unfortunately, corporations own the data and from that, they want us to behave the way they desire, mostly the “unnatural” way.
The Circle follows protagonist Mae Holland, a recent college graduate who had been slogging away in a cubicle in her hometown up until her friend Annie was able to secure her an entry-level job at the Circle, one of the biggest and most influential technology corporations. The Circle as a corporation makes clear nods to companies like Google, Facebook, and the general culture found in tech start-ups: everything is beautifully designed, the workplace is a “campus” with parties and endless amenities, and total participation in the group culture is required.
Mae starts out working in Customer Experience, where she fields questions from businesses that use Circle services. As the book unfolds, we are introduced to many of the technologies that Circle has developed (see below). And as Mae becomes more and more embedded at the Circle, she is consistently surrounded by more screens and becomes more engulfed in her data self, the gameification of socializing, and cult-ish devotion to the company.
The only pushback Mae gets to this acculturation is from an ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She sees him after pushing particularly hard to climb the PartiRank social system, but he tries to point out the fallacy of that so-called “social” interaction: “It becomes like we’re never alone,” he tells her. “Everytime I see you, there’s a hundred other people in the room. You’re always looking at me through a hundred other people’s eyes…Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.” (132-134).
This reminded us of our first readers post, where we wrote about the dynamic between a self constructed out of data and your embodied self. Through this first part of the book, there seems to be a lot of tension within Mae between her embodied self and data self — in the LuvLuv demonstration where Francis put her data self on display, in the way Circlers interact on social feeds, and the way total sharing online is encouraged (Mae is scolded for going kayaking and not posting about it).
We wanted to couple the data-self concept with the idea of a neo-panopticon. We have discussed Foucault’s panopticon before in the course and Circle technologies certainly bring up the issue of total surveillance. However, an interesting development is that in the Circle world, there is not necessarily one centralized power or one central “guard tower.” Instead, the neo-panopticon can be reconceptualized as prison cells that are completely transparent and filled with prisoners who have the ability to police others and well as be policed by others. It creates a situation of tyranny of the majority and adherence to rules not because of the threat of vertical exercise of control but because of the incredibly (scary) high degree of social cohesion (arranged horizontally).
(In this line of thinking, all of life becomes a neo-panopticon that does not have specified guards — anyone around you could has the ability to exercise power over you if you step out of line. However, while there are no guards in the model, the prison is still owned by a totalitarian, capitalist monopoly aka Circle)
Our question for discussion layers these two concepts: taken in the landscape of neo-panopticon, what happens when the data self overtakes the embodied self?
Here is an overview of the technology introduced in the first 200 pages of The Circle:
TruYou: “one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person. There were no more passwords, no multiple identities…unbendable and unmaskable.” (21). The biggest aspects of TruYou is that is makes anonymity online nearly impossible and has supposedly rendered the web a completely “civil” place free of trolls.
SeeChange: “[the cameras] are so small, they’ll never know for sure where they are, who’s placed them where and when. And the not-knowing will prevent abuses of power.” (66). These are tiny cameras that yield extremely high-definition live footage that the Circle plans to retail for under sixty dollars.
LuvLuv: “Scans the web and uses some high-powered and very surgical search machinery to ensure [know who your date is and where to take them].” (121). Dating for the data-selves. Match.com on steriods.
Total cloud storage: “Your music, your photos, your messages, your data. It can never be lost.” (43).
ChildTrack: chip your children in their bones, like dogs, to be able to constantly track their whereabouts so that crimes against children become “impossible.” (90).
InnerCircle/OuterCircle/PartiPank: the gameification of social interactions; participation in the social feeds boosts the Participation Ranking, which is while not technically required of employees is implicitly required to display that they “fit in” with the campus culture.
Health Wearable + Ingestible Sensor: swallow a sensor (without informed consent) in order to track heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart flux, caloric intake, sleep duration, sleep quality, digestive efficiency…and on and on. The stats then display in a wearable bracelet. (155).
For our observation this week, we asked all of our classmates to send us the following lists:
- 15 of your friends at Davidson
- 15 of your classmates this semester at Davidson
- Every professor you have had at Davidson
Our goal was to create a network graph that shows the connections we have through the people in our classes.
We have 4 visualizations to accompany these lists. There is one network graph for friendship:
One network graph for classmates:
One network graph for professors we’ve had at Davidson:
Note that in the overall graph below that the edges indicate either friends, classmates, or professors (or all of the above?):
Here is the link to the Google drive folder that contains our .dot files and pdfs so you may zoom in closer to examine the graphs.
**** Updated ****
Visit this link for a better graph layout: http://truthexistseverywhere.com/network_dig210/index.html
The article we read by Jennifer Whitson focused on how gamification of the quantified self can constantly adjust one’s daily lifestyle to adapt to a “better” life as seen by the designer. Whitson references Nike+ as one of the quantified self apps that allows the user to track their workout routine and observe the quality of their health throughout their day. By accessing this information and creating visualizations of this data, the user can then interpret this to find ways to get closer to the goals that the app has created for them. This use of the person’s data is not seen as surveillance in a negative way because people view this as an attempt to help them become healthier. However, there is no serious delineation between the surveillance of Nike tracking your phone for “workouts” and the government tracking things such as your phone to know where the phone and user are. This poses a serious question to viewers that if we allow apps like these? She does not delve into this divide because she feels it is a slippery slope, but is very important for viewers to consider these similarities.
Whitson also addresses how gamification is only applicable if the person is actively interested in the game. She says, “for it to be experienced as play, everyone needs to be a willing participant”. This thought as well as her belief that “rules are locally situated and constructed by the participants” provides the possibility of reverse analyzing this, to find out what games we are playing subconsciously, in our everyday lives? After reading this we realized that things such as weighing in after a meal or such, was still some form of a game that we would have never considered.
Where do we draw the line on how much we want to be tracked versus what that tracking can give us access to? Also, so much of our life is about a quantified-self game, when do we get to stop playing, or do we even really have control over the game anymore?