Thursday, July 12, 2012

Shelf Life [adult]

The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives are Altering the World Around Us, by Nora Young,
@SPL: 303.4833 You

If you’re thinking the name Nora Young sounds awfully familiar, you are probably: A) a supporter of CBC; or B) a supporter of the library.

Nora Young was the founding host of CBC Radio One’s Definitely Not the Opera, and now hosts Spark on the same station. She also appeared as one of the panelists during our community discussion on the future of Stratford Public Library at City Hall last fall.

She’s an avid and very conscious consumer of information, and has channeled her interest in how information technologies shape our lives and consciousness into her first book, The Virtual Self.

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.

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 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?

The Virtual Self engages information rights issues thoughtfully, candidly, and in an 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 highly recommended to anyone who enjoys Spark, and also to those with an interest in media and information theory.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on July 12th, 2012. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian

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