Cybertentacles

ROBO-ME
I’m getting insecure about my humanity.

On the one hand, it’s cool to be wired into our world. Obviously since you’re reading this online, you agree. However, I’m feeling pretty creepy about being a “Quantified Self.” The Quantified Self lives in a smart home, traveling in our smart cars to meet with our smart friends who are using their smart phones to connect with even smarter friends who aren’t at the table. We can use the QR code on the menu to find out how many calories of what we’re about to eat, and then our biomonitors can tell us how well our bodies enjoyed the meal.

Gary Wolf has been documenting the human/data entwined world for many years in Wired magazine and the New York Times Magazine 2010 article “The Data-Driven Life.” At the recently concluded CES Consumer Electronics Show we see what else we can wire-up to: connected appliances have arrived, just in time to monitor the babies, pets and mother-in-laws.

Self-tracking is everywhere, wonderfully described by James Wolcott in his article “Wired Up! Ready to Go!” As he puts it: “a greater transparency of our personal biomechanics in the quest for vitality, mental clarity, sleep quality, pain management, smoother operation, enhanced productivity, Zen tranquility.”

I’ve also been amazed at how quickly politicians have learned about our household’s preferences. Although I’m familiar with microtargeting from my research business, Sasha Issenberg’s The Victory Lab, filled in the history and gave me a taste about what’s next for political campaigns. My family had an interesting appetizer last election. We’ve always voted for Democrats household (I’m a Precinct Chair), but one of my family members decided it would be “fun” to vote for Michelle Bachmann in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Within DAYS we were getting at least one Republican robocall, and then came the torrent of mail from Republican candidates up and down the ballot. When I went online to prepare block walking lists for my precinct, I saw that my household had now become “soft” democratic, and listed my family member’s recent Republican vote.

If you’ve ever checked your credit record and found erroneous information, you know what I’m going to say next. My loan officer recently called to inform me that she couldn’t move forward with a loan because I have a tax lien against me from 1992. After paying for the full report, I found out the lien was from a city several thousand miles from my home, against someone whose name I can’t pronounce. Equifax and I have entered the “dispute” phase of our relationship.

So, should we worry about the expanding cybertentacles finding us, or some approximation of “us”? The Europeans seem to be more concerned that we are, issuing a Data Protection Directive that’s got lots of US companies and bureaucrats frightened.

Sure, we should stop posting all the Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare tidbits about the less than flattering activities in our lives. If you’re interested, some states are better at protecting privacy than others, and there are many ways you can track down what’s available online about yourself and set up some protections.

I’m just not so sure any of it matters. I don’t care how much computing power will be devoted to defining my consumer habits or political opinions, because if those out to find “me” ever get it right, they’ll learn that I’m not persuadable anyway. As for my Quantified Self, I don’t need any digital reminders that I’m stuck in the February blues, waiting for Spring, missing the real people I love.

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Suz Korbel

Suz Korbel

Graduating in '71 from Cornell gave me a few unencumbered years of protesting, followed by 4 happy hipster grad student/worker years at U of Michigan, completing a Ph.D. in public administration. Followed a comedian to San Francisco, then my heart to Austin Texas to learn the TV business, dabbled in hot&heavy politics in DC, and returned to Austin & San Antonio, Texas to hone my political/media skills. I make my money conducting consumer and political opinion studies.