Data Streaming, Smart Gadgets: Man as Extension of Machines.

I have been in a long distance relationship for more than 4 years. Whenever someone asks how I do it, my first and only answer would be: “Thanks to technology”. It is true that the affordances of technology have blurred the physical distance: I could easily pick up my phone and Facetime, or Skype, or message him on Facebook or Twitter. We even downloaded this silly app called Couple that allowed couples to “thumbkiss”, which means when two thumbs touch the same point on the screen the phone vibrates.  Technology has really made distance vanish. Nothing bothered me or got me reflect on the nature of that relationship until the first summer after we had started dating when I got to go and visit him. After 6 months of constant Skype calls and text messages, I was shocked to see him in person. I was more used to seeing his pixelated face, hearing his voice as strings of data, expressing my emotions with silly emoticons – I realized that technology had constructed a digital reality for me that, when I stepped out of it, the real life didn’t seem as much real anymore. I started to become aware of how much I am surrounded by data, by information, how I am constantly receiving and producing information every second of my life. My boyfriend is now a result of binary codes. Marshall McLuhan asserts in his book The Medium is the Massage:

Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously (…) We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay. (63)

Thus, technology has brought us into an environment of “active interplay” where we are all expected to actively receive and produce information at any time. In this week’s reading Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access, Wheeler Winston Dixon discusses the shift to digital production and exhibition in the film and television industry. This is an important part of the spectrum of how digital technology is influencing our life and culture. His final chapter “Streaming the World”, resonates with Marshall McLuhan’s theory that:

All media work us over completely. They are so persuasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the message. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments. All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical. (26)

Dixon discusses the future of not only movie streaming and data mining, but also the future of our habits and culture, which is accurate, although discomforting. He argues:

Do you really think that Google, Apple, and the other web hyperconglomerates are simply passing your information along from one person to the next without taking inventory? No – you are the ultimate streaming program material in the twenty-first century, constantly broadcasting a vast array of information to corporations and advertisers about the way you shop, eat, dress, work, play, and even conduct your relationships with others (141)

Nowadays, in order to get access to information: movies, television shows, music, etc, each culture consumer has to pay. Sometimes with money, and always with information. The Internet is no longer a place for sharing; it is a trading place. We consumers are put in a position where we have to be constantly concerned about what information and data we are giving out to trade off for that show, that photo, that song we want to have. According to Dixon:

(…) the array of streaming data is so vast that Facebook has built a huge “data farm” just sixty miles south of the Arctic Circle in Lulea, Sweden to house the vast amount of information it has collected. (…) the Arctic Circle seems to be a congenial location for the billions of megabytes of data that Facebook collects, stores and puts to commercial use. (142)

This fact reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s response in his interview in 1969 that “the more data banks record about us, the less we exist”. Should we be scared of the future? We used to dream of smart machines that read us, should we be worried now that those machines are now reading too much about us? McLuhan’s theory that machine is the extension of human no longer holds true in this streaming age. It’s now the other way around that we are becoming the machine’s extension. We let the machine read our minds, mine our data and shape our habits, not the other way around.

I was very excited when this project was introduced. Ring, a device introduced by Japanese startup Logbar is “one smartring to rule all”. Wear this little ring on your finger and it controls your every movement: from writing texts to friend, paying your bills, turning your appliances. Ring is connected to your smartphone and allows you to pre-program movements so that it could easily recognize the command and complete the task.

Does it make you excited, or concerned, when all these wearable devices will become part of our reality in this digital age? Compared to the Google GlassRing is smaller, more humble, and more discreet. Even though I love innovative technology, it is slightly discomforting for me to know that this little device will see, hear, and hold all of my personal information, from very trivial things such as the hours I wake up, TV programs I watch to more private, important data like my bank account, my monthly bills, the code to my apartment, etc. It is inevitable that smart, wearable gadgets hold the key to the future, and that future is the streaming age. We, in the age smart gadgets, must also be smart users.

Work cited

Dixon, Wheeler Winston. Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access . The University Press of Kentucky, 2013.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage. Gingko Press , 2001.

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