Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shadow on the Wall

Shadow On The Wall

My family caught me by surprise this Christmas with a new time eating distraction. I am now the proud owner of an iPod that has been loaded with heaps of music (most of which I have never heard before) and the full length movie “Transformers”.

It was a nice gesture, but what really made my heartbeat quicken was the microphone attachment that came with it. This nifty device plugs into the base of the iPod and it has boosted a hobby of mine, which is composing music. Up till now, I have used a tape recorder and struggled to get my tunes and songs out in a form my friends can easily hear – or to put into some form of notation for other musicians to play.

Owning an iPod has put me into the iTunes world and so I have become a member of the ‘cool generation’ of downloaders. I can make mp3 recordings, add extra bits to them in ‘Garage Band’ and send them over the Internet. I can also view movies that I take with my digital camera and add them to the movie theatre I carry in my pocket.

I was as happy as Larry until I heard a BBC radio programme recently, called Digital Planet (RNZ National 5.30 am Sat. morning). iPods were mentioned while they were talking about the emergence of our “digital shadows”. They explained that this term can be loosely defined as the recorded trail we leave behind us when we use the internet, cell phones and the digital surveillance cameras that detect our activities in public places.

In the days when analogue data (film, tapes etc.) was king, it was very difficult to assemble the huge amount of material recording our daily lives. Not so today! The Digital Age is upon us and believe or not, the activities of almost everyone on Earth can now be quickly detected.

Using reliable research from the International Data Group (IDC), it has been estimated that in 2007 the average amount of digital information being held for every person alive was about 45 gigabytes (GB) of data (1 GB = approx. 700 photos on my camera). Since then, it has been estimated to be growing at a rate of 60% a year.

This is scary stuff! It is like being told that there are more stars in the Universe than all the grains of sand on every beach on Earth. My minds boggles - and when I hold my iPod in my hands I now get a sinister feeling that I am being detected by the nerve ending of a gigantic new monster that we have created.

My misgivings were not helped much when I found out that a lot of this information is being mathematically broken down into useful data by “Numerati”. This term was coined by Stephen Baker, who wrote a book on how this data finds its way to those selling consumer goods, services and political influence.

No wonder I am getting so much spam, junk mail and offers over the phone. I have noticed lately that the spam I receive in particular, is looking more and more attractive, but I dare not open their attachments for fear of picking up the electronic equivalent of STDs.

In places like China, the government trawls the Internet 24 hours a day for any signs of political dissent or moral corruption that might upset its power base. In places like that, older technologies might be a safer bet for personal safety. In this country, analogue recording will more likely protect your privacy more from the prying eyes and ears of marketing types. Mind you, some animal rights people in NZ have good reasons to avoid the pointless attention of the SIS as well.

I heard a film archivist say recently that we should not be too eager to throw away our VHS recorders, tapes and films. He said they could be repaired mechanically if they get damaged and can last a long time if carefully looked after. I like my iPod, however hardcopy media can still offer us a safe and more uniquely personal experience than the digital shadows of our former selves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Key Aura

Key Aura!

It was a holiday that Nick had been looking forward to for ages. He had been counting down the last days at school as he crouched over his desk scribbling words and numbers into his (“Could do better”) work books. He could not stop day dreaming of beaches and surf, as he watched the chalk dust drifting lazily to the floor.

When the holidays finally began, there were the usual family arguments at home over what to take or leave behind. Nick’s parents wanted “quality time away from it all”; whatever that meant. To Nick, it had sounded like being sentenced to a week of boredom away from Sky TV.

His mood lifted tho’, when they agreed to take along with them his best mate Tama and Rufus, his floppy eared Labrador. They were all soon travelling north and Nick began to catch tantalising glimpses of the deep blue sea between the passing hills of green farmland.

When at last the car wheels came to rest on the sandy car park Rufus bounced out first, followed by Nick and Tama. They raced up the nearest sand dune and were disappointed to see that the ocean was still some distance away. Nick felt the unpacking and raising the tent took far too long, but eventually they were on their way to the water.

The boys had not gone far down he track however, when they came across an old corrugated iron shack, with “The Foreshore and Seabed Act Sux” painted on the side. While they were having a nosey inside Nick’s Dad caught up with them. “Hey guys, get out of there, that’s private!” He said, calling them over.

“What does that mean Dad?” Asked Nick pointing at the writing. ”Not sure Nick, but I suspect the locals think they got a raw deal from our Government and they want more control over what goes on around the beaches and in the sea.” “Well I hope we can keep coming here if they win that court case they’re after.” Said Nick’s mum.

His dad chuckled the way he did when he was half serious, “Yeah well, maybe we will all have to get ID chips put in like old Rufus here to sort out who has more rights than others.”

The tide was out and the boys ran across the beach to test out their new boogie boards. They later got the call to come in for lunch and on their way back Nick saw a man, in some sort of uniform, talking to people digging up shellfish. Tama seemed to think he was a beach warden of some sort.

After a long and tiring day Nick and Tama were glad to get into their tent and they let Rufus curl up by the entrance. They talked a bit about who got the best wave and then both fell asleep. A couple of hours later tho’ Tama woke up when he heard Nick yelling. Tama gave Nick a poke with his torch to wake him.

“What’s up Bro? You having a nightmare or something?” Nick rubbed his eyes, “Yeah, I was being chased off the beach by a Maori guy like that Beach warden. He was waving a stick and trying to check if I had the right ID chip with some sort of scanning thing in his hand – scary eh!”

“Yeah, but that’s never goin’ to happen I reckon.” Said Tama. “You must have been worrying about what your dad said. My mum’s a pakeha and you know my Dad’s a Maori eh. Well, he said he couldn’t figure out why some people were blowing a fuse.”

Nick seemed more awake and slowly, some colour returned to his face, “You know what!” continued Tama, “Dad said, why worry about changing things – anyway, before long most of us will all be Iwi and paddling the same waka .”