5 A.M.

Jet lag is good for one thing and one thing only – it gets me up and out of bed between 5:00 and 6:00 am, which is (perversely) my favorite time of day to run. I am not a morning person, but I do love those early hours in Singapore – so, sort-of-kind-of a win? Or at least it feels like a win with some good music in my ears. Here’s a short list of the songs keeping me company in the wee hours this week:

Little Talks (Of Monsters and Men)

Shake It Out (Florence + The Machine)

Human (The Killers)

Yoü and I (Lady Gaga)

Falling (Haim)

Papaoutai (Stromae)

Dance, Dance, Dance (Lykke Li)

When Doves Cry (Prince)

Sad Songs (Matt Nathanson)

1234 (Feist – Vans She Remix)

The Mother We Share (Churches)

Chocolate (The 1975)

Gang of Rhythm (Walk Off the Earth)

Shake It Off (Taylor Swift)

My favorite donation. Ever.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.27.50 PMThis is a fun one, my friends. Today, I began donating my voice to the Human Voicebank Initiative. For half an hour, I sat in front of my computer saying simple words and phrases, like “Hi” and “Thank you” and “This is important to me.” An online recording studio collected my sounds, thereby adding them to a collection of sounds from thousands of people. The voices will eventually be mixed, customized, and combined for a person who uses a computerized voice as his or her primary form of communication. Think Stephen Hawking – except that the whole point of this project is to provide a greater variety of voice options. So, a sixteen-year-old girl in America doesn’t need to sound exactly like a famous British physicist.

The donation process is easy, flexible, fascinating – and just a little addicting. Here’s how it works:

  1. Download Google Chrome if it isn’t already on your laptop or desktop computer. (The site doesn’t play well with Safari and it isn’t available for mobile devices yet.)
  2. Head over to vocalid.co, hit “record” and start the sign up process. They’ll ask for some personal info and an email address. On a later page, they’ll also ask about your region and how people describe your voice. I don’t think the two pages together took more than five minutes total.
  3. You’re ready to go! Give the tutorial a quick look – it’s available via the menu on the right – and then you can begin.

Donors are encouraged to complete the process in short segments instead of all in one shot, but I found myself wanting to continue after I’d met my quota (ten sentences) for the session. The software leaves the time commitment entirely up to the user, so you can complete as few or as many sentences as you like, depending on your schedule.

Want to know more? Check out the TED Talk by Rupal Patel, the Initiative’s founder or read the FAQs on the TED Blog here.

Happy speaking! Do let me know how it goes so we can geek out over how tech-y and brilliant this project is.

Becoming Okay With Being Out of the Loop.

There’s a recurring conversation in my life that goes something like this:

Me: “Hey, friend/colleague/spouse/family member. I’m reading this fascinating news article/blog/book! Let me tell you all about it!”

Them: “Ooh! I read that this morning/last year/in college. Interesting, right?”

The next line of the conversation really ought to contain something to the effect of, “That’s wonderful! Let’s chat about this thing we have in common.” But it doesn’t. I usually utter a crestfallen, “Oh,” and then sulk for a minute because I hate when people already know things that I do not. Matter of fact, I get really insecure about it because a lot of my self-worth is wrapped up in knowing things that other people don’t (which could be a post in itself some other time). And then I get really competitive. Because obviously that’s the best way to alleviate insecurity – by trying to be better, smarter, and more clever than anyone else.

This means I spend time running circles around the blogosphere and news sites in an effort to stay abreast of the trendiest conversations about faith and feminism and food. I hit refresh on Feedly; browse through NPR and NYT once more. I scroll through Facebook over and over, fearing I’ll miss some photo of a baby or a wedding, some post about where people are traveling over the weekend, or some conversation about ideas or books or memes. And just when I think I’ve come out ahead, there’s that crucial piece I seem to have missed – the one everyone else knows about and I only become aware of a week later.

There’s just no winning.

What’s worse is the way that a ten minute break turns into two hours of chasing news blurbs, commentary, and (let’s face it) eventually cat videos across the web. I have the leisure time for that at the moment, but in other seasons this can mean neglecting projects or people – the work and the relationships that are life-giving, that the best parts of me want to be pursing.

So I think perhaps it’s time to move towards becoming okay with being out of the loop. Yes, I know that’s a tentative sentence. Chalk it up to the strength of insecurity and the persistence of bad habits. I suspect this is going to be a long road. I have some ideas about some first steps to take (and would welcome others from anyone with whom this post resonates):

  • Leaving the media to the end of the day, when my work is done, seems like a solid choice (and it’s worked in the past). Or leaving it altogether, at least for a time.
  • Balancing long-form writing with the the rapid-fire articles I usually consume might, I think, help me slow down the chase, strengthen my patience, and encourage me to be okay with knowing a bit less.
  • Choosing to spend time on bodily pursuits like running or yoga or cooking with other people instead of mind-based activities when possible will, I hope, give me room to connect with other parts of my self.

There are more abstract pieces too, though, that will require more time and will probably involve a fair bit of back-sliding. Such as choosing to admit when I don’t know something. Or actively viewing the conversation above as the opportunity to discuss ideas and events on common ground.

I think much of this process will entail depending on the inherent kindness of my peers, students, mentors, friends, and family; this work requires trusting that I will be met with encouragement and education, not ridicule, when I am ignorant. (Which has been the case on more occasions than I can count.)

So. Help me if you dare – and I’ll do the same for you if you’re also a chaser after that latest meme or that new bit of knowledge you too want to smugly disseminate from on high. Let’s call each other out when we sulk because someone else got to that spiffy link first; let’s learn together to welcome shared knowledge. And let’s remind each other that our worth does not depend on the number of factoids and headlines floating around in our minds.

Web Presence, The Second Self, and Being Kind to Your Future Archivist

The Heartbleed mess sent me scrambling to change passwords two weeks ago. I’m one of those people who previously rotated between three or four passwords on every site because I’m incapable of remembering any more combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols. Now, it seems, that is an entirely unsafe practice. So, I bought a password manager and dutifully changed the password for every place I have information stored online. Or, at least, I think I changed the password for every location that contains a piece of personal data. The thing is, I have information distributed to so many devices and sites it’s hard to tell if I caught everything. There are three devices (iPhone, iPad, and the husband’s Macbook) that actively contain material that speaks to who I am plus another two devices (a hard drive and my own aged Macbook) sitting at home in the States that still harbor evidence of me. In addition, there are no fewer than forty sites (though I think no more than fifty) on which I have some combination of a profile, financial record, and personal preferences stored – illustrated here with a handy word cloud: 20140429-133858.jpg I am not alone in this. Nearly every site I use has millions of users on any given day, which leads me to believe I’m not the only person who spends time scattering herself around cyberspace with reckless abandon. On the contrary, this is the condition of the self in the twenty-first century. As cyborg anthropologist Amber Case has explained brilliantly in her TED Talk, “We are all cyborgs now,” the twenty-first century self is often two selves: a real world self and a second self present online. This second self is projected via our technological extensions like smartphones and computers and exists as a distinct identity apart from our everyday, flesh and blood selves

This is not to say there is no correlation between our online and offline selves, but I think Case taps into the reality that our online selves are particular and have, to a great extent, their own subjectivities. Even if I don’t create entirely different personas online, the person present on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or emails is at once me and not me. It is me in that it is a display of things I’ve done or said or written, but it is not me in the sense that there are pieces missing. Intentionally missing, even – I do not usually choose to display the grungy-t-shirt days, my unsuccessful-run days, my emotional-outburst days, my insecure-about-grad-school days online. My spouse, friends, and family know that self offline and I might hint about it online, as I’m doing here, but that self is for the most part absent from the online self. Nothing too new here, I think, even if you’ve never heard it articulated this way before.

But what on earth does the Heartbleed virus, online identity, and cyborg anthropology have to do with our future archivists? Archivists are charged with preserving and maintaining the records of institutions and cultures for use by citizens, CEOs, managers, governments, and researchers. Some of the curious men and women who go digging through the paper and digital sources of archives will be looking for evidence of how some swath of a population conducted or understood themselves. I’m thinking mainly of historians here, though I recognize we aren’t the only ones interested in what the internet will offer as a source. Book historians in 2050 might be interested in Goodreads or Amazon booklists/orders as evidence of what books were reaching a populace. Twitter feeds are already being stored by the Library of Congress. Food historians could have a rich primary source in Instagram and Facebook archives. Cultural historians will turn to blogs just as they previously turned to diaries, journals, and family bibles.

The challenge facing archivists at the moment is how to assess, catalog, and preserve the immense amount of material currently available, especially in the case of personal papers that are digital – preferably before the information is deleted or made obsolete by a more recent format. Their job is not made any easier by our scattering ourselves across the internet and multiple devices without a record of where we’ve been or how we got there or how to access that information after we’ve passed out of existence.

So let’s assume, just for a moment, that your personal information would be a valuable contribution to an archive. How would your family or an estate manager or an archivist locate you if you were not there to guide them? Ideally, you would have left behind some sort of metadata – perhaps a list of websites you frequently visited, the links to blogs you maintained, a book of passwords, a record of pathways to important documents on your personal and work laptops, desktops, and phones. Some archivists are now even hoping that there will eventually be an app or software that acts as a sort of memory box for our online activity, allowing archivists to immediately access the paths you’ve taken on the web over the course of your life with just a few keystrokes. (See Christopher Lee’s edited collection, I, Digital, for a more extensive discussion of the challenges and hoped for solutions archivists identify surrounding digital documentation.)

All this, I’m sure, sounds terribly frightening in an era of NSA surveillance, viruses targeted at common website formats, and the every present threat of identity theft. But, as a good friend pointed out recently, this is also an age in which it is completely reasonable to expect an employer to search your name, view your Facebook and Twitter feeds, and take the information gleaned into account when deciding whether or not to hire you. Many of us already take precautions to limit how much a stranger can learn about us, but there are always bits of information that slip through the cracks and security settings that change without warning. So what if you had the ability to log into your memory box, double check which photos are still visible on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Picasa, Google, and OKCupid all at once? What if you could scroll through and find the websites you haven’t used in the last six months, which might serve as a useful reminder to clean up or delete your profile on those sites? What if you could leave your family members with the password in your will so they automatically had a space in which to begin sorting through what to keep and what to destroy, just as they would do with your physical belongings?

Many of our personal digital records will not be useful or interesting to archivists and future researchers. Still, it seems like our second selves could use a little maintenance and care from time to time. Just like we take time to evaluate our habits and behaviors offline, it is a good and healthy thing to consider how we present ourselves online and to re-order or simplify or revise that presentation as necessary.

Link Love

Just cleaning up my web presence and didn’t want to lose some of the content on my other short-lived blog. Post coming soon about identities on the web…and how to be kind to future archivists.