Podcast: Nora Young talks about her book The Virtual Self and how our digital lives can reground us in the physical realm.

UPDATE: After much hullabaloo, Facebook filed its paperwork for an initial public offering, the week of its eighth birthday. The company will begin trading late May 2012. Read more at Mashable. They also have a nice video to explain what this all means, in particular the increase of mobile-Facebooking.

I went back to Nora Young to ask her thoughts. What does this mean in terms of data? OUR data? Here they be:

At the most basic level, Facebook's IPO is a good example of the fact that our data has value. In fact, it's interesting just to consider for a moment that the stock price is — and will be — driven by the loyalty of users and the data they choose to contribute, more than the platform itself, which in the absence of user data really has little intrinsic value.

Does that data have as much value as today's trading suggests, though? In advance of the IPO, I found it interesting to read speculation on what FB might need to do in order to generate the revenue that "Wall Street" might expect. See for instance, this New York Times article. It points out another feature of these platforms: that exactly what use will be made of our data, is something of a moving target. We are really at a fluid period in thinking about what value personal data actually has.

At more of a cultural level, the borderline hysterical coverage leading up to FB's IPO suggests that we are really drunk on data. It's a story with an odd sex appeal to it, since as users we are in some sense 'involved' in the IPO. Companies rarely play such a direct, almost emotional role in the personal lives of average people.

Nora Young, author of The Virtual Self (McClelland & Stewart).

Nora Young is a writer-broadcaster, producer, and documentary-maker. She was the founding host and producer of Definitely Not the Opera and currently hosts CBC's national radio show Spark. She is fascinated with the intersection of technology and culture: how changing technology affects the way we see ourselves, and each other.

Find Nora Young at any or all of her online homes: NoraYoung.ca | @nora3000 | CBC's Spark | The Sniffer

Young has written an incredible book that's right up my alley, called The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us (McClelland & Stewart).

In it, she explores the impact of data mapping/self-tracking/life-caching — the virtual information we generate about ourselves, our own lives, our communities, and our government. Where we go, what we do, how we feel. The book then looks at the challenges around how we share that data — from Facebook status updates to Google Navigator — with an eye turned toward how we might build more responsive communities and governments. And while some would say that the privacy wars are over — and that we've lost — Young argues that the technologies and conversations are still in their early days, and that it's citizens, not technocrats, who should lead the next leg of discussions over how and when our data is used.

About the podcast:

The impulse to self-track is not a new one. But with the advent of digital technologies — cheap devices, open-ended storage space and the ability to widely share our data — it would appear as if the digital realm has taken over. But Nora Young argues that there's still a lot of ground to cover if we're to take our banal and trivial information and translate it into creating better communities. She's optimistic. Listen in to hear why.

In this podcast, conducted at the CBC in Toronto, Nora and I chat/muse about the following:

The Virtual Self by Nora Young (McClelland & Stewart)
  • the difference between self-tracking (personal accounting) and self-scrutiny (personal reflection)
  • working with data for purposes beyond target marketing
  • building cities to respond to where we are rather than the reverse
  • how the fringe activity of life-caching has become an almost unconscious daily activity
  • the development of critically-minded tools
  • how trivial information can be intelligently shared to create communities that are more responsive
  • the need to recognize that while digital technology time shifts us, the tools themselves create opportunities for us to reground ourselves in the physical realm
  • addressing the ironic yet functional nature of digital

Terms, individuals and organizations referred to in this podcast include:

May 16, 2012
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