Stephen Wolfram dissects his personal email, keystroke and phone data spanning an entire decade. From 2002 to 2012, he logged his daily usage of almost all technological functions that he uses. This data spans the course of an era which saw an exponential increase in the use of personal technology as well as in innovation. The changes in this time period are reflected in the increases seen across multiple graphs Wolfram includes in his blog article, particularly his outgoing emails, events per day and hours spent on his phone. However, the graph on daily keystrokes is the one outlier; Wolfram’s keystrokes per day decreases over time.
Early on in the post, Wolfram brings up the “self awareness” he has built by collecting all of this personal data. Although documenting all of these different things may have made him more conscious of his actions, I think it also exemplifies the “busy bee” work ethic that so many more workers have begun to embody over the past two decades, with the rise of computers, emailing and IM. Today, we are constantly responding, typing and searching. I was almost shocked by the fact that he has sent a “third of a million emails [he’s] sent since 1989” and has more than 1.7 million files.
After reflecting on all these visualisations of his personal data, Wolfram could make some both small and broad changes to his work habits/ethics and lifestyle that would greatly increase his work efficiency and quality.
Surveillance is not only practiced through listening to your phone calls or reading your emails, it is also part of our everyday digital user experience, according to Whitson. With the help of gamified applications that are both aesthetically pleasing and, in the long run, intimately satisfying, all sorts of companies attempt to lure us into giving up personal information voluntarily. The pleasures of play, the promise of a ‘game’, and the desire to level up and win are used to inculcate desirable skill sets and behaviours. The real-time feedback about user’s actions amasses a large quantity of most personal data, which in turn can be used to forecast a consumer’s behavior. And for some reason we all love to be surveilled in this way.
Whitson argues that this pleasurable surveillance relies on three conditions that are provided by gamification: willing participants, diversification and trust in the underlying algorithm. With the help of these attributes, gamified digital applications are able to transform our intuitions, ambitions and even feelings into something more reliably and seemingly objective – a stream of numbers. Even though this data provides us as a consumer with more suitable and personal options, I believe that giving up your personal information voluntarily makes you a player in a game that you never really agreed to; and I am not even sure if there is a way of winning it.
In Sam Levigne’s article, “Taxonomy of Humans According to Twitter”, he describes the process one can use to peg twitter users into different categories as it appeals to consumption. According to Levigne, everyone has access to this data on-boarding and can use it to make ads on twitter. Essentially, the process can categorize twitter users, based on their activity on the site, into countless different groups. The individual making the ad has liberty to target just about any audience imaginable. This goes to show that everything we do online can be tracked and can place us in categories that we may or may not have necessarily associated ourselves with.