Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Being == Data  §

It begins to feel as though all of life is data entry. The database is, of course, everywhere. It can’t be seen, but it peeks through the cracks here and there, often through electronic displays, sometimes through other forms of information or encounters that have the vague whiff of connectivity and its consequences about them.

There is much data to input. Connections, purchases, preferences, relationships, histories, grade point averages, employers and employees, phone numbers, birthdays, letters, records, taxes, images, songs, keywords, tags, categories, archives, essays, waves, wall updates, networks, links, bookmarks, budgets, and on and on.

The benefits of this massive data entry project boil down to a few things:

(1) More of what you like, provided magically. More theory or more anti-theory, more football, more handball, more Renaissance art, more postmodern travelogue electronica atonal music recorded as a series of visual artifacts in an otherwise unremarkable Warhol replica. You can have in ten minutes what you once had to spend a lifetime discovering; you can have more in a lifetime than once spanned a civilization.

(2) More people to share it with, more of the time. You know them and they know you, now not only in theory, but in practice! All of those “wonder what happened to so-and-sos” and “we really ought to keep in touch mores” can turn into “we check in with each other on Facebook and get together sometimes.”

(3) More self-insight, self-actualization. There is more of you to reflect on; more of your strengths and more of your weaknesses that, when remembered, turn into strengths. There is no better way to remember them.

(4) More control. The ability to move material objects with a few electronic thoughts. The ability to become financially independent from behind your own desk. The ability to learn all about Poland and then go there, modes of actualization that were once unimaginable to the masses, now made mundane.

(5) More reliability. Never miss another birthday or anniversary. Never lose another receipt come tax time. Never get lost anywhere in any city anytime. Never waste an hour trying to find a gas station or a day trying to find the holiday gift that you want because it doesn’t seem to be in stock anywhere. Never lose track of your finances and bounce a check. Never be out of reach for those loved ones that need you, no matter when that happens to be.

All that is required for this to come about are one or two small sacrifices in privacy that most are willing to grant and have been willing to grant throughout history in one form or another. This is endlessly discussed, but the discussion is largely academic; when someone offers you telekinetic control, cyborg memory, and global xray vision at the expense of a little overexposure, you take the deal. It’s not a bad deal. We are all today superheroes, and all we had to do is let Google have a peek at our unremarkable, massific traces of activity.

Oh, and one more thing: you have to actually get your own data, your own “data self” into the system.

For tomorrow’s children this won’t require a second thought; it will happen automagically. They will be databeings from the very beginning and their growth into adulthood will be congruent to and inextricable from their data growth and systemic entanglement (which is the same thing as systemic power).

For today’s adults, however, this is not such an easy feat. After all, for someone like me, years and years of data have accumulated in random nooks and crannies scattered around my life. Scraps of paper, lost notebooks, fragments of memory, a smattering of digital files in a dozen digital devices, “stored” in social networks to be “retrieved” only through months of long labor in person or on the telephone trying to mobilize our (now clearly) primitive early form of collective memory, mediated and managed as it is not by MMUs and algorithms and electron flows but by archaic symbolic systems that must be acted out in party-game-charades of voice and motion.

There are so many ways of getting the data in: voice recognition, handwriting recognition, big keyboards, little keyboards, bluetooth and WiFi and ether and token, downloads and uploads, smartphones and smartpens and scanners and digital cameras, mice and trackballs and trackpads and trackpoints, social tagging and social bookmarking, waves and tweets.

And if we had been doing this all along, all of our lives already, the accumulation would be functional, adequate, and transparent.

But we haven’t been.

And as a result, we are too far behind to ever actually catch up on our data entry while at the same time managing to have a life.

We will be the generation that just missed digital fruition, that just missed an entirely new mode of being. We can touch it, taste it, hear its pulp music dancing through the ambient mediation of the ecosociotechnosphere, but we will never properly wear it, live it, identify with and as it, in the same way that our children will. There just isn’t enough data in the system of us, and there is no way (or no time) to get it all entered.

We are the liminal generation, caught between analogue and digital, trying to catch up to the new loci of the self as the old ones dissolve away. We will always be a step behind.

Too bad; the new life promises to be—to coin a phrase—rather cool.