Unlike a declining number of people on the planet, I can remember when my life wasn’t documented. I can recall researching the subject of ear wax at the library without finding my mailbox stuffed the next day with discount coupons for drops or scrapers to facilitate its removal. Ditto, my study on foot fungus. And frankly, I escaped prison at the age of six because my neighbor didn’t have a smart phone to record me in the act of stealing her roses.
Dave Eggers, who wrote the Silicon Valley novel, The Circle, thinks technology is turning us into a “…race of spies, where we track our kids and we track our spouses and we track our friends.” (“Too Much Information,” by Clive Thompson, Mother Jones, May/June 2017, pg. 66.) I can add to Eggers’ list. We also track ourselves. Social media are the mecca where we post selfies while we dine at a restaurant or attend a beer fest. “Oh, and if you like this post, here’s where I’ll be tomorrow.” Good grief! Who needs NSA to spy on us?
I admit, social media encourages us to record our lives. Daily, it sends us feedback about how other people rate us. Frankly, I’d prefer not to know. I don’t want to live by the number of “likes” I get, or the number of emoji or the number of comments people leave behind. If I did, I’d have a huge inferiority complex. I agree with Eggers. “…a citizen under surveillance is not free.” (Ibid pg. 66.)
To be honest, except for advice about ear wax removal, I don’t see much of this data being put to good use. Is anyone tracking the number of petitions I’ve signed demanding that Congress fix gerrymandering? Gerrymandering is what writer Clive Thompson calls the “dark art of drawing a legislative map” so one political party gains dominance over the other. From where I sit, all my petitions are blowin’ in the wind. “(“In Math We must Trust,” by Clive Thompson, Wired, May 2017, pg. 40.)
Progress gets stymied, not because we don’t know how to fix problems, but because we lack the will. In the case of gerrymandering, Moon Duchin of Tufts University has developed a geometry to create fair districts and has offered to train others. She expected a handful of applications. She got 1110. (Ibid pg. 40) No member of Congress applied. Our leaders are busy kissing babies for social media..