The Virtual Self
How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around UsBook - 2012
We generate enormous amounts of online data about our habits: where we go, what we do, and how we feel. Some of that is stuff we choose to report; some of it is the offhand data trails we leave behind. The Virtual Self looks at the debates and challenges around virtual data-sharing -- from Facebook status updates to Google Navigator -- and its potential for building more responsive communities and governments. Nora argues that if we wrestle now with issues like privacy and data control, we can harness the power of that data.
The host of CBC Radio's Spark , Nora Young has fascinating information at her disposal, unique insights into the intersection of the virtual and real worlds, and a wonderful voice for making all of these clear to a general audience. Accessible and entertaining, The Virtual Self takes that personal, psychological reality of everything from email to status updates and teases out the increasingly bigger impacts on the real world around us of the virtual information we all generate.
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If you’re thinking the name Nora Young sounds awfully familiar, you are probably a supporter of the CBC. Nora Young was the founding host of CBC Radio One’s *Definitely Not the Opera*, and now hosts *Spark* on the same station. She’s an avid and very conscious consumer of information, and has channelled her interest in how information technologies shape our lives and consciousness into her first book, *The Virtual Self.*<br />
She opens the book with a quick examination of people most of us would view as geeky outliers – people who use online applications to track any and every aspect of their lives. As Young notes, this urge to self-track is nothing new – geeks as venerable as Ben Franklin documented their lives’ minutiae with an eye to self improvement. With the advent of mobile applications, though, the drive to quantify our lives has finally found a simple, user-friendly outlet.<br />
Given our desire to see ourselves reflected back, it isn’t surprising this kind of tracking is becoming the norm. Who hasn’t tried a pedometer? How many people do you know use apps to track their performance on their morning jog? Who doesn’t get a little kick from seeing their life quantified in a slick little timeline, feed or other app-generated infographic? But what are corporations like Google, Twitter and Facebook even doing with all that information - and what will it mean for us personally, politically and socially?<br />
[Gleeful non-sequitur alert, if you’ll pardon me briefly: Have you seen some of these apps? My favourite is called *Zombies, Run!* It’s available at https://www.zombiesrungame.com/ and turns every run into a gleeful dash from brain-sucking ghouls. That’s some value-added data collection, if you ask me.]<br />
*The Virtual Self* engages information rights issues thoughtfully, candidly, and in a very accessible, conversational tone matching the one Young strikes on *Spark.* She concludes there’s no stuffing the narcissistic cat back in the wet paper privacy bag, and that’s okay; this great flood of our personal details into the servers of Big Data can be a very good thing. But, we must be sure we fork over our information consciously (meaning we ensure we are clearly informed of its potential uses and potential consequences) and mindfully (meaning we don’t forget that there are parts of our lives that can’t be quantified, but are still very valuable to us). Overall, this smart little book is very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys *Spark,* and also to those with an interest in media and information theory.<br />
***Please note: The eBook is has been catalogued in Overdrive under the title *Keeping Track* ***
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