Slow Data Movement

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Maxtor-piles-of-files.jpg

We see a sort of "slow data" movement, users cutting back on Internet usage, Chinese punishing overuse of Internet cafes, apps that limit usage, and like we discussed, social network suicide. Is this the beginning of something bigger, or how would you compare to other social movements?

A digital camera produces an instantly intangible representation of an object upon use, and a tiny camera can store thousands of photos at a time. No longer does one plan photos and carefully shoot on a 24 picture limit. A campaign by Cutwater for Maxtor demonstrated this concept very well. 8 years of digital photos were printed out and placed in a large room for people to look at. The result was a stunning monolith of solid photos several feet in diameter.  A Polaroid camera produces an instantly tangible object upon use. The object has weight and value. But there is one one of it.

I think with any rapidally occuring social movement, there is a tendency for at least some part of the population to recoil. Unlike the autmobile movement (where driving was cut short by fuel, roads, hours in the day (and was also looked upon as something positive to the economy), the Internet is a device that transports the mental self, and it is invisible. In the real world, there is a limit to how much one can eat or have in their house. The Internet does not have that limit. One can ingest all the information they want, and yet the information does not end. There is a Greek myth about a hungry Hero landing on an island. The island has a table filled with an enormous feast that eternally replenishes itself. But there is a dark side to the feast. If he eats of it, he will bonded to the island for eternity. 

I feel this way about Facebook. It is an endless feast of social profiles and irresistible data. Once a piece of information is consumed, another appears in its place. The architecture of Facebook is one that almost guarantees instant participation. Each click is recorded and added to how data will be presented to the user in the future. These tiny bits of reported data create an almost perfect AI system with an extremely high resolution of interaction. The system understand the data that the user likes, and makes sure that there are always more delicious pieces of content around. It is a politicized interface in that it is magnetic. It is very difficult for a charged particle to fly straight when a magnet is in its path. Almost every piece of material on Facebook is magnetic in some fashion, making it almost impossible to log in without browsing and feasting in some fashion. 

And most of those who have partaken in the feast cannot leave. It is the only place where one can be contacted by former acquaintances and friends. Data is stored there. Some people can simply not be found if they are not on Facebook. Many are completely bound to it. 

One of my friends recently participated in a charity in Singapore.  The event had live music and a short educational bit about preventing insomnia in youth because of heavy Internet use. The Internet accelerates attention and keeps the brain on. Because the data is invisible, we cannot know if we've eaten too much. We don't understand how much we're inputting into our brains, or how much we are fragmenting them. It's easily seen on a computer when data is installed all over the place. Performance decreases. Load time increases. There is an increased risk of hard drive failure. 

I see a whole lot of people with too many project ideas and increasingly switching systems of goals and activities without any real focus. The Internet is a series of caverns and tunnels with no end. One can be buried in the black hole of Wikipedia and learn a decade's worth of particle physics in the span of a few hours. The difference is that there is no physical time and experience associated with that data, so there are no deep neural networks being formed in the brain around that material. The brain will eat it because it is there, and the brain will create more desires for that kind of information in the future. In the same way one might crave McDonald's, one begins to crave information. It becomes obsessive compulsive. The trigger finger on the E-mail, clicking for information to come in. It takes real effort to push out and create something instead of just consuming. One can have many ideas and no implementation, because the idea of time is lost and replaced by information that can be absorbed without the expenditure of time. The idea of time is fractured and broken. This is a rather dangerous thing. I have to seriously consider how much time real world objects cost to produce and plan out my days accordingly. It is a very conscious process now, because I've become used to an instantaneous native environment. 

Google provides fast food data and fast food information. Friends and networks provide a more curated set of information, but it is still very, very fast. In any system where one extreme emerges, there will always be an equal and opposite extreme. This describes what we're seeing with the slow information movement, with hipsters desiring Polaroids and vintage clothes and old records. These are all tangible objects that have weight and time associated with them. They take up space instead of a tiny bit of text in iTunes. They must be lifted, store, carried, searched for. They are items with a limit. They are not infinitely reproducible. Each one is unique and limited and has much more relative value than a file or software download or image online. The slow information movement understands the importance of limitation, weight and reality of objects.  

I think the slow information movement stems from a reaction to  is also an issue with the escape velocity of data.

“Recording, creating, receiving, storing, and accumulating digital materials is easy, but managing and using them sensibly is difficult, especially as time passes and their immediacy fades” (Czerwinski, 2006). Hard drives have limited space. The Internet is an automatic production of space. It is an endless hole that can never be filled. 

Flickr is a successful website because it provides a connection across many of the black holes of personal hard drives. If black holes of data bend time/space inward, towards the invisible compressed area of the hard drive, then the only way to get it out is another time/space compression – one of upload. One where hard drives are so compressed that they can compress no further – where they begin to squirt out into the cloud – to social sharing sites, and Flickr.