Data-Obsessed Might Have You Depressed
When I am eating dinner with friends, it has become the norm to come second to their phones. I sit there, conscious of my phone usage especially around others, and yet Facebook notifications, texts, and Snapchats seem to have more importance than conversation. Somebody once told me she downloaded an app that tracks how many hours a day someone is on his or her phone, and she said it was one of the scariest things she had ever done. The fact that we seek data so much that we want to know the data behind how many hours a day we are seeking that other data is crazy to me. We, as individuals in the twenty-first century, have created a terrifying sense of normalcy by becoming a data-driven people.
In The Data-Driven Life by Gary Wolf, this idea of a population so controlled by data is delved into. While Wolf provided an excessive amount of data with an extreme amount of examples, this simply went on to prove his point that we are obsessed with information: seeking it, grasping it, and picking it apart. He immediately states that “…it is normal to seek data,” and this is true. It is incredibly normal to want to know how your favorite sports team is doing right before the playoffs (here’s looking at you, Cavs). It is normal to inquire about how many likes you got on the Instagram you posted earlier today. It is normal to wonder how many votes you are getting after insulting women and immigrants alike (cough cough, Donald Trump), and it is normal to ensure that you are getting a proper amount of viewers on your talk show if you are Ellen DeGeneres. What is not normal, though, is living and breathing this data.
What does living and breathing this data look like, you ask? First, social media has taken over millenials’ lives. We think that everyone on the Internet cares about what we were doing last night or what our summer plans are. David Lammers-Meis, who Wolf quoted in his article, said “The more they want to share, the more they want to have something to share.” He is absolutely correct. The feedback that we get, in forms of likes, comments, etc., drives us to share more, even if we do not have something to share immediately. We thrive off of this, which is concerning.
Living and breathing data is not just social media-based, though. Think about your personal life. Have you ever counted calories or tracked your steps? According to Wolf, “…numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed.” I know I personally fall under this description. I tracked my sleep last night. My roommate and I have our “Find Friends” app ready to go at all times in case we need to track each other’s location. I even track my menstrual period on my phone, because God forbid I forget what day it started on last, sending the doctor into a panic.
I decided after reading this to look into the idea of a Fitbit a little more closely. I do not personally have one, but I know people who do, and they are obsessed. I have personally witnessed a friend pacing back and forth in order to get to a certain number of steps for the day, and apparently she is not the only one worried about reaching that daily goal. Reading How Fitbit Drove Me Crazy by Ana Kasparian via www.huffingtonpost.com gave me a glimpse into the fitness data-obsessed. She wrote what I am sure every Fitbit-user wondered as soon as he or she purchased one. “How much sleep do I get? How many steps do I take? Does my heart rate fluctuate enough? Am I burning enough calories to justify the Famous Amos cookies I inhale at work on a daily basis? Should I switch to the smaller bag of Nutter Butters? Oh, I can add friends and track how much exercise they get?” While the Fitbit might seem to solve all of these issues, it drove Kasparian insane. She did not realize how difficult it was to get 10,000 steps in when working a desk job, and comparing herself to her friends was one of the worst things to happen to her. She panicked about not getting enough sleep and especially about the fact that all of the data she was tracking could be pulled by the government at any point in time if she were ever to land herself in a situation like that. These constant pesky thoughts mess with Kasparian’s head, and yet, she still wears her bracelet. Why? As the title of Wolf’s article implies, data is what drives us.
That being said, we must watch our data intake. Not only can it drive you crazy as it did Ana Kasparian, but it can also affect your memory. Wolf writes, “Our memories are poor; we are subject to a range of biases; we can focus our attention on only one or two things at a time.” I took the first part of this statement and looked into it a little more. Personally, I know my memory is poor. I used to be amazing at memorizing information in grade school in order to ace tests. My history midterm this semester, which involved memorization and memorization only, was beyond difficult to study for. When I was younger, I did not have a cell phone to talk to people on or a laptop to peruse over Facebook with. Now, I do. It can even be as simple as recalling what I ate for dinner on Wednesday, as I write this on a Sunday. I have only had three dinners in between these days, and I cannot remember for the life of me what I ate that evening. Sure, I might be able to pull it out of my brain randomly tomorrow, but it is a shame that I cannot think of it when I want to.
I am not alone, though. In an article entitled How Technology Is Warping Your Memory by Carolyn Gregoire on www.rawstory.com, it is written that “Numerous studies have also found that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, they understand and retain less of the information.” This relates to my personal studying experience along with so many other students’. She also states, “Even a single session of Internet usage can make it more difficult to file away information in your memory.” Think about how many times a day we use the Internet, whether for homework, social media, or to Google that really fancy word your friend just used to add it to your vocabulary. It only makes sense that those little spurts of Internet-searching are putting unimportant information into valuable spaces in your memory.
While this normalcy is concerning, perhaps one of the greatest things that I become more and more apprehensive towards the more I read about it is “the cloud.” The cloud is a difficult concept to grasp, and that is why Wolf breaks it down very simply for readers. He says, “…fundamentally the cloud is just a poetic label for the global agglomeration of computer resources — the processors, hard drives, fiber-optic cables and so on — that allow us to access our private data from any Internet connection.” In theory, the cloud sounds like a great idea! Anything we could possibly want can be accessed anywhere we could possibly want. Family photos, important documents, and plenty of other data are just floating around, waiting for us to open them. That being said, it seems pretty easy for anyone else to access them, too. Seeing as we live in a world that loves collecting information, odds are pretty good that that information will be collected. Maybe it is just me, but when data collection reaches that point, I get a little freaked out.
Just because I am intimidated by all of this does not mean that I do not understand that it is not going anywhere. Living in this day and age, data surrounds us, and that is okay. In fact, it can be a blessing! We need data such as medical records and electronic information to make sure the correct dosage of medicine is being distributed or to ensure that putting two wires together will not electrocute someone, for example, and we have it. We might even need data such as number of Instagram likes and sleep cycles in the future, and we have that. All that I am saying is that I think we need to be careful of our intake. This normalcy that we have created, of tracking extremely detailed information and sharing it with the World Wide Web, is something that cannot be brushed over lightly. We are putting our lives out there for all to see. By being conscious of this, we can be cautious of what we are allowing to consume our time and brains.
Gregoire, Carolyn. “How Technology Is Warping Your Memory.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 11 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Kasparian, Ana. “How Fitbit Drove Me Crazy.” Raw Story. N.p., 14 July 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Wolf, Gary. “The Data-Driven Life.” The New York Times Magazine. N.p., 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.