Our Bit Heavens
The life of a bit
When I was a child I believed in a heaven.
One of the best features in my little heaven was a magic VCR (I'm a child of the 80s). This VCR had every moment of your life in it. You could go back and relive any of them. You could also get inside the heads of other people at any moment, and you could change perspective. You could jump inside of their VCRs and play their lives.
Paris, walking, data minds and towers
Paris and the data mind is about a little slice of that heaven (or hell, for some). Andrew Womack at The Morning News took it on as editor and we threw it back and forth for a month. Check it out — it was a blast to work on.
Buying a Fitbit inspired much of the thinking that led to the essay. Even now, months after my experience in Paris, I continue to dutifully clip it on. Which is to say: I wholeheartedly recommend the product, strange little thing it may be.
More generally though, Paris and the data mind is an essay about our digital squirreling. About that heaven I dreamt of as a child.
It's about awareness — both taken and given — by digital devices. It's about the Church of the Data Mind; a church we're all subscribing to, whether or not we acknowledge it. It's about making sense of this digital-self detritus we're amassing.
From the essay:
I think of our checkins, our food photos, our tagged friends. I think of our steps, our Fuel Points. I think of the myriad and nearly endless stream of data — data now actively collected but becoming increasingly passive. I think of all of this and I can't help but see a hologram projected somewhere off in the distance. A reconstitution of something, someone, miles away, years out.
Who is that hologram?
It's us, right? I mean, it's not a 1:1 precise reconstitution, but it's something. We're currently in the 'self-selection' phase of personal data collection. Meaning, we have a bit of control over what goes into our collection. But this phase is transitory and fleeting, dovetailing into the totally passive, collect-it-all phase. Which raises the question: what does 1:1 look like?
In recent speaking engagements I've mentioned a 'corpus' — a corpus of data as created by publishers, and the corpus of data as collected by us. And I've spoken about how we are slowly habituating the collection of events — 'real' events in meat space. And how, psychically, I've felt an unexpected twist amidst all this collecting. I've felt that things not recorded in the ether, not tagged or checked in don't feel quite as real. They're fleeting. Given to the whim of my ever degrading memory.
And that — that feeling of 'real' events added to digital space becoming, somehow, more real, more existent, is a very strange thing indeed. A reverse flip-flop from that which I wrote about in The Digital⇄Physical.
The more I collect — the larger my corpus becomes — the more I think back to that data heaven I had seen as a child. The cyber punk'd, fluffy, bright, cloud filled expanse of endless VCRs and dusty CRT screens.
In imagining this heaven I would make lists of all the amazing lives into which I'd hop. Not just hop into, of course, but also scrub through. How I'd get lost down the sub-lives of other people who would appear in main streams. How those sub-lives would become main-lives and the sequence would continue on down an infinite recursion.
To me, it was a no brainer: exploring these fractals could easily fill up an eternity, however long that was. And man, oh man, did that sound like some fun magic.
So how close are we to this? This kind of scrubbing. Once gone, in what format do we leave our lives? And what is the value of a life spent exploring other lives?