Data: “the text unconscious” in the computer and digital life

I followed different examples from the class syllabus to download my Gmail account data. I couldn’t figure out how to make it useful in a practical-technical statistical way, but I had a look at it and thought about the potential of what is stored in there. I felt about myself as the eastern Germany agent from the movie “The life of others”. But instead of looking and listening at someone else’s actions: spying on myself. It was at the same time a fascinating, funny and scary thing to do.

The process of downloading all the digital files from Gmail made me think about all what is currently being discussed in the public sphere about data privacy and all the dangers and dark things associated to it. We are coming to a point of having some kind of involuntary automatic diary, that kind of “remembers” more about our life’s than we actually do. It keeps track of data that is irrelevant for us, but is very useful for Google, Facebook, Amazon and/or other powerful companies that are controlling today’s markets in many ways and in an increasing rate. I was kind of scary to think about the computer creating a different narrative and version about ones life. One problem is to get the data, the next one is how to read it and make sense out of it. This is a reason that could lead machines to make wrong assumptions about us. For instance, if we do our sister the favor of buying some women ski clothes, and we buy a bunch of things related to that, the amazon algorithm could assume that we really love ski and that we may have some gender identification with female gender. But this could of course be naïve to think. They could, and most likely, already know who is my sister, her ski plans and also her birthday, etc.

So this is kind of an interesting mirror to look at your self. It can provide new ways of looking at yourself that you didn’t pay to much attention before, (at least in my case). A financial image of your self, and linked to that, your consuming habits, your eating habits and preferences, your traveling frequency and locations, your way of spending your free time. Also how much social life you have in both, a digital way and also in real face to face physical mode (pre-internet fashion). Another thing you can learn about yourself is about the ideas you allow to interact with your mind, trough inputs as music,  information sources as books, literature, online courses, articles, blogs, magazines, podcasts, museums and galleries visits, among others.

Another interesting thing lies in the ad and spam message area. We begin to carry with us tons of useless information that was originated in different points when signed up to something or made a purchase, or just because our information was given to strangers somehow. This spam could end up distracting our minds and interfering with our goals. When looking at it, we can at some points make connections with our shopping habits and also that reminds us about what are we interested in or where at some point in the past. In my case I was pretty much interested in researching about digital photography, so now I receive tons of emails regarding that field of knowledge. That information used to be more useful before, but now I almost never think about that. So it passed from useful to almost garbage.

Interesting examples of an information exchange are the books we read, the movies, videos and music we watch and listen to.  A connection is set with the AI algorithms in a two-way mode. It learns from us, and we also learn from them. It creates a feeling similar to having a talk with a friend that recommends us certain things, according to something he know we like. He also knows what we don’t, so the conversation keeps going forward. I like to see it this way and not always in the “apocalyptic” tone we sometimes people talking about AI, in the line of the Homo Deus.

The collection of our data somehow could be very useful as stated in class, for us to be more aware of our habits, behaviors, that in the end determine who we are, the activities we do and the way we live our lives. There are many possible examples that are revealing of my current activities like my Google files, including the history of visited locations, schedules, browser history, emails, among others. I also can have a look at my musical taste in the recent times by looking at the Itunes 25th most listened to songs. That could be useful for trying to understanding what’s on my mind or maybe what I think I need to listen too for feeling in a particular mood, etc. The way we want to see it also plays an important roll here. We can see it in a positive way or as a frightening one. We could soon (if this is not already done) program an Algorithm to analyze us according to all this inputs. It could then advice us in general, but also specific ways to correct those wrong behaviors or vices, so we can feel better in the long run with our lives. AI could also tell us things and advices that would be very uncomfortable things for an analyst or close friend or family member to say to us. It’s up to us how to use magnificent tool, that off course is like the knife, useful and potentially dangerous at the same time.

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