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The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us (edition 2012)

by Nora Young

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222476,730 (3.58)1
Member:RandyMetcalfe
Title:The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us
Authors:Nora Young
Info:McClelland & Stewart (2012), Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Read in 2013
Rating:***
Tags:r2013

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The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us by Nora Young

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Nora Young, the host of CBC Radio’s Spark program, brings the same clear, intelligent voice to her writing as she does to her on-air technology journalism. In The Virtual Self, she explores the culture of self-tracking—the sometimes obsessive recording and, latterly, broadcasting of (often) numerical facts about one’s self, one’s body, one’s position in space (i.e. location), one’s preferences and tastes, even one’s moods. It is a pervasive, if not ubiquitous, phenomenon, as evidenced by the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and even LibraryThing. But what does all this recording of books read, calories counted, kilometres run amount to for the individual? And what emerges in the conglomerate, shared social world when so many are sharing so much about themselves?

Young canvasses the potential benefits of digital self-tracking as well as many of the risks. She interacts with innovators, experts and activists from the digital realm to bring focus to her examination both on the technical end and on the philosophical end of the spectrum. Are we become the disembodied selves that Marshall McLuhan foresaw? Have we forfeited our development and growth to our virtual counterparts? Or are these digital avatars merely useful feedback mechanisms for our “real” selves?

There are real personal, social, and legal risks involved in proffering up so much intimate information about ourselves without a clear sense of who will be putting that data to use and how. Young does not shy away from these controversies, but neither does she succumb to anxiety about them. She thinks that we need clear-headed discussion of the kind of digital world we are creating, consciously or unconsciously, through our participation in these innovative forms of digital sharing. And she provides a useful entry into such a discussion. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Jan 14, 2013 |
"As an editor and a student of Communications, I was intrigued by the hype around Nora YoungÄôs new book. Unfortunately, I had to force myself to continue reading The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, and I never actually finished it. My main issues with it are: repetition, the concept of ‚Äúso what?‚Äù, and the general organization. However, the tone and writing style is very conversational and accessible, very much like Nora Young‚Äôs show Spark on CBC Radio.

I will admit that repetition and general organization of the book go hand-in-hand, and sometimes it was the colloquial tone that attributed to the repetition. However, this doesn’t excuse the fact that the book has little direction—she spends the first half of the book talking about self-tracking and how we do this, and a bit of the ‘why’. But she doesn’t go much deeper.

At the end of the first chapter (p.32) Nora poses all the questions that have been bugging me so far: why we do this, what are the consequences, how does this change our relationships, etc. And then she creates the cardinal sin of essays: she doesn’t answer the question next. I understand that this is a tactic used to further engage readers, to dangle this carrot of a possibility so that we keep reading. However, in my opinion, if you’re still dangling these carrot-ledes at 30 pages into a 200 page book, something is wrong. By the end of the first chapter, readers should have a clear view of what the scope of the book is about, what the current situation is, and why it is important. The remainder of the book should build on this foundation. So, in the hopes that Nora was building (albiet slowly and painfully simply) I continued to read.

By the start of chapter six (pg. 115) I was starting to lose it. “We talked about the factors—technological, psychological and cultural—that have come together for this new era of self-tracking to tack off.” Um …. no, we really haven’t. I cannot agree with this statement. You mentioned some history of technology, and some psychological desires, and a shift in cultural practices, but there has been no in-depth discussion of the WHY behind the factors. “WHY?! SO WHAT!?” If I were editing this, I would write nicely in the margins in green ink (because it’s nicer than angry red ink): “but why is this important?”

Perhaps it is my current mindset in academia, or my editor background, but I want stronger correlations, sources cited (or even just footnotes), and more in-depth analysis of the consequences. Young mentions this growing need to track our time (pg.22) but never addresses the question of ‘do we need to’ or ‘why do we feel we need to’. She simply mentions that we feel this growing need. BUT WHY?!? At one point, I actually wrote in the margin (in pencil which I erased after writing this blog post) “so what?”

Read my full review (less ranty) on my blog: http://www.monniblog.com/2012/08/the-virtual-self-nora-young-book-review/" ( )
  monnibo | Nov 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0771070640, Hardcover)

The host of CBC Radio's Spark explores the very real impact of the virtual information we generate about ourselves -- on our own lives, our communities, and our government.
 
We generate enormous amounts of online data about our habits: where we go, what we do, and how we feel. Some of that is stuff we choose to report; some of it is the offhand data trails we leave behind. The Virtual Self looks at the debates and challenges around virtual data-sharing -- from Facebook status updates to Google Navigator -- and its potential for building more responsive communities and governments. Nora argues that if we wrestle now with issues like privacy and data control, we can harness the power of that data.
 
The host of CBC Radio's Spark, Nora Young has fascinating information at her disposal, unique insights into the intersection of the virtual and real worlds, and a wonderful voice for making all of these clear to a general audience. Accessible and entertaining, The Virtual Self takes that personal, psychological reality of everything from email to status updates and teases out the increasingly bigger impacts on the real world around us of the virtual information we all generate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:25 -0400)

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