I will be helping my CBC colleague Nora Young with the launch of her first book “The Virtual Self” tonight. If you are in Toronto, please stop by the Dora Keogh Pub on the Danforth starting at 6:30. Nora and I will host a chat about the book, and then she’ll be signing copies (while I head back to work to anchor the 10:55 news).
The Virtual Self picks up on many of the themes that Nora explores on her CBC radio program Spark. In her book, she looks at the emerging trend towards self-documenting our lives online. For her, it is much more than posting status-updates or location check-ins, but using technology to help track things like kilometres run, calories consumed, books read, and hours slept. She interviews people involved with the “quantified self” movement, who are going online to obsessively collecting data about their everyday lives in an attempt to better understand their lives offline.
I found that to be one of the more interesting aspects to the book. She writes about her own struggles with digital distractions (a problem I certainly share with her) and how easy it can be to become lost in one’s technology. She wonders if self-tracking, and documenting one’s virtual self is an attempt to re-connect with our physical bodies in a tech-obsessed world. Our real-life personas are much more than just the sum of our online status updates and re-tweets.
“Being physically grounded, sensing the self in real physical space, is a core part of mental, physical, and spiritual health, and yet everywhere in contemporary culture that basic, grounding experience is denied us. This almost dissociative experience of being unmoored is an aspect of digital culture we seem oblivious to. We are animals, and yet we are failing to acknowledge just how vital a grounded, deep, embodied relationship to the world is to our well-being.” page 86
She wonders if self-tracking is an attempt to acknowledge that: “It is a way of saying: look, I exist! Here is my body, what I consumed, how I moved my body through space and time.”
Of course, collecting all of this data about ourselves is full of privacy concerns, which she addresses in the book. She also looks at the public policy considerations: can we build better cities by looking at the aggregate data of what citizens are doing and going in their everyday lives. All in all, it is a fun and thought-provoking read.