Monday, December 16, 2013

World Wide Memory

The main difference I discerned between the Facebook data about myself that I downloaded and the Google information about myself is that the Facebook profile is mainly things that I have posted. This means that at some point, I deemed my photos, wall posts, statuses, and messages as worthy of entering online. This began to worry me when I saw some of the posts I have made that require knowledge of the situation in order to be understood or need to be understood as sarcastic or else their implications seem problematic; tone is not conveyed effectively. I think this shows an understanding of my generation that things we post are thought of as transitory, passing whims. We don’t consider them that important over time, even if we consider some of our online interactions as important while we are having them. Perusing my Facebook data, however, assaulted me with the reality of my online interaction—it’s all there. All of it is recorded, the good and the bad. A great deal of it is awkward to read through and recall because it is so pointless now or I would rather forget it happened. It caused me to reflect on the purpose of my Facebook status to me. Currently, I think I’ve posted a status three times in the last eight months, so I don’t use it very often. However, when I first had Facebook 6 years and 4 months ago (cool, it tells you when you created it!), I posted a lot of statuses, mostly stupid ones. I was thinking that my statuses are kind of like looking through a photo album...except that it isn’t the same. We take photos and actually make them into an album if interesting things are happening (Snapchat is changing this though). My statuses in and of themselves are not interesting. The most disturbing realization of this exercise was seeing my private messages between friends. I wish many of them could be destroyed. There is so much there that just doesn’t need to be remembered, especially word for word.
               In contrast, my Google information was a bit different because it is Google’s assumptions about me based on my searches and site history. I was actually surprised by how inaccurately Google chose my “interests.” Then I realized that many of them make sense because of the stage of life I am in—college, where I have very, very little time to do what I enjoy or try new activities. Thus, most of my searches are school related (e.g. “Books & Literature, Finance”). My interests based on websites I have visited are confined solely to “Dictionaries & Encyclopedias...” Some categories make no sense to me. Not only am I not interested in them, but I don’t remember any searches that would lead to these categories (e.g. “Hair care, mobile phones, shooter games, celebrities & entertainment news, East Asian music”). Thus, Google’s information about me seemed less personal than Facebook’s. I caused Google to perceive me that way through my searches and web history, but I didn’t actually input the specific information about myself.

               My main takeaway from this exercise is that I feel a bit like our digital world is Michael Foucault’s concept of “panopticism.” We are always monitored. Everything I say on Facebook, “privately” in messages or publicly in posts, is recorded and located in some database somewhere I have no access to and can no longer control. My use of Google affects what the company thinks of me, and it can sell that information to advertisers. I think that we (all internet users, not just my generation) need to more carefully consider what we type into our computers. Maybe for Google searches, it doesn’t matter. Facebook, on the other hand, can seem a bit intrusive. I wonder if this means we should have more face-to-face or physical communication...

No comments: