How Not to Study the Internet; the Quantified Self; and Digitally Facilitated Quality Time

Posting has been light of late, but will likely pick up in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, here are some items that have crossed my screen recently that might be of interest to regulars.

First, Alex Williams exams digitally enhanced family time in his NY Times piece, “Quality Time, Redefined.”  Williams explores the digitally gathered family which inhabits the same physical space while exploring individual digital spaces accessed via laptops, tablets, and smart phones.  Physically present to one another, family members are dispersed in their own activities, occasionally sharing something of interest.  According to James Gleick, who is cited by Williams,

In the near future, he said jokingly, “A new skill that will be taught by relationship counselors will be knowing when and how to interrupt one’s loved ones: Is a particular joke you’ve just read on Twitter worth her yanking out her earbuds?”

Despite the obligatory gesture toward “the critics,” Williams is sanguine.  This arrangement beats the passive absorption of television and the forced and artificial feel of planned quality time around games or meals.  It could be just me, but I can’t help but sense that such reassurances are like a tasty tonic into which a tasteless poison has been surreptitiously slipped.

At Crooked Timber, you can find an interesting post, “Against Studying the Internet,” about what is being studied, or what should be studied, when one studies “the Internet.”  Rather than focusing on the immensely large and notoriously amorphous thing we call the Internet, or even more specific things like social networking platforms, it is recommended that the object of study should be the role of causal mechanisms associated with specific technologies.  What does this mean? Read the post and, if this sort of thing interests you, the long, but substantive, comment thread.

Finally, Gary Wolf interviewed on the Quantified Self.  Wolf and Kevin Kelly, along with others, have been working on a project to make the immense amount of data collected about you in a digital environment work for you.  According to Wolf, “[Y]our data is not for your boss, your teacher, or your doctor — it’s for you.”  Sounds good.  Most obvious applications are, of course, for health care.  Other potential applications?

  • Facial tracking to improve happiness.
  • Cognition tracking to evaluate effects of simple dietary changes on brain function.
  • Food composition tracking to determine ideal protein/carb meal ratios for athletic performance.
  • Concentration tracking to determine effects of coffee on productivity.
  • Proximity tracking to assist in evaluation of mood swings.
  • Mapping of asthma incidents and correlation with humidity, pollen count, and temperature.
  • Energy use tracking to find opportunities for savings.
  • Gas mileage tracking to figure out if driving style matters.

Sounds less good somehow, but in that difficult to articulate way I tried to put some words to in my last post.

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