I want to be my own Big Brother: an App Daydream

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” (Gwendolyn Fairfax in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest)

I’m skeptical about how much corporations benefit from the data I generate. If tracking my every movement worked, then Facebook would not keep trying to sell me the icky Peloton Cycle — “The only bike with LIVE and on-demand classes streamed to your home” — about which my lack of interest is complete. To put it plainly, I’d rather have a prostate exam with no lube that ever get on an exercise bicycle to do a spin class anywhere, let alone one where I have to grunt and sweat alongside virtual neighbors.

Companies use my digital ramblings to try (and usually fail) to sell me things that might have interested me in passing but do so no longer. The butterfly net of big data swooshes past me and captures who I was, not who I am now.

But golly I’d like to have access to that data. I spend time (loads, too much) searching through three different email archives, Evernote, Facebook, old Tweets, pictures on my camera phone and journal entries trying to dope out variations to recurring questions about what I was thinking or doing, when I was doing it, where, and why I was bothering in the first place. Sometimes I even look into my web browsing history across different browsers on different machines.

Little of this includes other information about where I was geographically, who I was talking with, and what was going on in the background as all this was happening.

Big companies and governments have access to this information… sometimes under the pretense of not linking all the bits and bobs of Brad-shaped data to my personally identifiable information (PII), except in the case of government where it’s all me all the time.

My friend Renny Gleeson calls this a “data contrail,” with my activities carving a big slash through the world like a jet leaving a visible white cloudy line in its wake.

But why don’t I get access to my own information? I’d like all my traces bound up in a tidy dashboard that I can see at my leisure… sort of like Apple’s Time Machine but for my whole life. Data visualization please, stat!

In my daydreams, I think of this as an App, called “Diary” or maybe “iDiary,” that hooks up all my activities and makes them easily seen on my phone or tablet.

Beyond just trying to catch the string of a passing thought, if I suddenly find myself thinking of pizza, then I’d like to know that I walked by 13 pizzerias, saw three ads for Domino’s, and that the episode of “The Most Popular Girls in School” my daughter showed me was sponsored by Pizza Hut.

Everything should be in my Diary: where do I drive? Who do I talk with as I’m driving? Include emails and notes, what I post and view on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google searches, where my GPS-enabled phone has been (with me along with it, presumably), what I watch on TV or Netflix, what sounds are happening in the background where I am (because if Arbitron knows, why shouldn’t I?), what am I listening to on Spotify, and what billboards are in my peripheral vision.

The creepy thing isn’t my having access to this information, although it could quickly lead to Narcissism At Scale (oh look, a new acronym — NAS!), it’s that this information is already out there, just disorganized, owned by disparate competing corporations and governments, and it’s easily misinterpreted to my disadvantage.

At the minimum, the price of corporations tracking me and recording my movements and actions in laundry pen for the rest of time should their sharing what they have written down about me in a way that is easy to access and manage.

I want to be my own Big Brother.