The quantified self is neither the dream that Pamela Lund makes it out to be, nor the nightmare that “Digital Shadow” does.
Lund’s dream of the quantified self
Pamela Lund dreams about the quantified self. She thinks that it would be helpful to represent human existence numerically and graphically. But she doesn’t address the reality that we are not the only ones with access to our quantified selves.
“Digital Shadow” creates fear
A marketing stunt for a new videogame called “Watch Dogs” goes over the top in alerting users to the potential dangers of participating in social media. The app, called “Digital Shadow,” allows Facebook users to find out just how much Facebook “knows” about them. It does so in the most alarming way possible.
According to the app, humans are not individuals, but data clusters (“Gauvin”). The commercial for the video game says “anyone could be your enemy, and anyone could be watching when you least expect it” (Watch).
So what does Facebook know about me?
When you log into the app through your facebook account, you see the phrase “infiltrating target” instead of “loading.” Once the app has loaded, you see your personal Facebook file. Most of the information is related to ways to harm you.
The first section, for example, is a list of Facebook friends labeled as “collateral damage”:
- The people who you interact with most are listed as “pawns” who “can be used against you.”
- People who look at your profile a lot are considered “Stalkers.” These are people who “can be mined for further information about you.”
- “Liabilities” are contacts who “consistently tag you in posts and photos, exposing your data. They can be used to weaken you.”
- “Obsessions” are people who “do not reciprocate your interaction and can be potentially hostile.” These are “people who can be tapped as allies in an attack against you.”
- “Scapegoats” are people who you don’t talk to very often. They are people who you “will sacrifice for self-preservation.”
Another section analyzes your posts and labels you as “neurotic,” “depressive,” “deviant,” “volatile,” or “submissive.” Yet another area of the file goes through your data and generates possible passwords that you might use.
At the very end of your file, you can even see an estimate of how much money your “digital shadow” is worth, should someone want to buy your identity.
Digital Shadow accurate?
The information that Digital Shadow showed me about myself was only somewhat accurate. One major flaw is that it seemed to weigh my activity from four years ago just as heavily as my activity from last week.
In addition, Digital Shadow reassured me that I don’t live my life on social media. For example, only three out of my six “pawns” were actually people who “could be used against me,” one of whom was my brother. The rest were casual friends. People who I am closer with, I don’t really interact with as much on Facebook. I text them, call them, or talk to them in person.
Consider the source
Digital Shadow makes us think about how much information we put out on social media. It reminds us that this information could be used against us.
Facebook does have access to a lot of information about its users. As Rebecca MacKinnon notes, this means that the government also has access to this information if they pressure Facebook for it. Anyone who hacks into Facebook can also see this information.
But it is important to remember that Digital Shadow is a marketing stunt and a dramatization. Digital Shadow wasn’t really made to make a statement about privacy or social media. It was made to sell a video game.
No need to fear, just to think
Digital Shadow is for entertainment and marketing. But the idea that we are data clusters is important. The quantified self is becoming a reality. We don’t need to fear the quantified self and see those around us as enemies. But we should think about the implications of companies, governments, and others knowing more information about us than we know about ourselves.
"Gauvin, Olivia." Watch Dogs - Digital Shadow. Ubisoft Entertainment, 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.
Lund, Pamela. Massively Networked: How the Convergence of Social Media and Technology Is Changing Your Life. San Francisco: PLI Media, 2011. Print.
MacKinnon, Rebecca. Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom. New York: Basic Books, 2012. Print.
Watch Dogs. “Watch_Dogs: Welcome To Chicago.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.