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.

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