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.

iPad as Laptop: Week 1

I recently switched from my MacBook to an iPad because a.) my laptop is wearing out and b.) I’m going to be reading tons of ebooks and PDFs on the move this year due to the upcoming move to Singapore and I wanted something more portable for the numerous plane rides, bus trips, and subway commutes that are all part of living on the island. Since ebooks especially can be a pain to read on a laptop (especially on a moving vehicle), the iPad seemed like a win-win.

The only problem is an iPad isn’t really supposed to replace a laptop. It was designed as an entertainment device with some pretty wonderful features for personal movie viewing, e-book reading, photo sharing, social media use, and gaming. It does not come with built in word processing apps or a full keyboard or apps for reading PDFs or a spreadsheet program for keeping track of grades. iPad is not built for flash, so even viewing some websites can be a little tricky. So how to get it to do everything I needed and wanted it to do for the sake of my academic sanity in the coming years?

I did a fair bit of research (yes, it is a transferable skill…) before making the purchase and thought I’d share the most useful tips I gleaned along the way as well as some tricks of sorts I’ve picked up through using the iPad as a work device over the past week or so. Which isn’t to say I’m an expert or that everyone should make the switch – only that if you want to do so, this will hopefully give you an idea of what it takes in terms of preparation, hardware, apps, and financial investment.

Prep work:

Maybe people more tech savvy than myself could just sync up their iPad to their computer and go, but I found I needed to do a bit of prep work in order to adjust for a more limited amount of storage space on the iPad as well as for a lack of laptop to sync to at a later date, since I don’t plan on keeping both the iPad and MacBook. To that end, there were three big things I needed to find storage for ahead of time: documents, photos, and music.

1. Documents. Since my MacBook pre-dated the release of the Pages app (more on that below) my documents are still all Word documents, originally stored on my computer and an external hard drive, for backup. But I don’t use all of them all the time, so there was no reason to try to transfer them all to the iPad – web storage would be just fine. I chose Dropbox, though Google Drive or Evernote might have worked as well. It’s free, you can garner extra space for participating in their how-to demos and by recommending it to friends, and their iPad app looked easy to use. I downloaded the MacBook version first, dragged and dropped the files I wanted from my computer and hard drive into the Dropbox folder, and voila! They were all available online. And yes, there’s plenty of space. I have 3.2G total to use and only occupied some 40% of it with nine years worth of Word files and a fair number of PDFs.

2. Photos. These take up a ton more space – especially if they’re high resolution photos, like the 1200 from our wedding. So Dropbox wasn’t an option for all my photos (though the app does offer storage for photos as well). I could have made private albums on Facebook, but I wasn’t sure about available space and sometimes re-downloading photos from the site can be a hassle. After looking through other options (Picasa, for instance) I went with Flickr on this one. The site offers a terabyte of space, which I’ll never occupy, and the uploading process was simple, even from CDs. The web format is attractive and albums can be kept private for as long as I like. It did take a long time to upload the larger files, but I was able to work on other projects in the process, so it wasn’t too much of a nuisance.

3. Music. This was, alas, the file format that did not allow for a free solution. I couldn’t find any sort of free cloud format that provided enough space to store five to six thousand songs and I didn’t think it would be wise to use a full 28G of the 32G available on the iPad just for music. So to iTunes Match I went. It’s not a bad deal, really. For $24.99/year, I can store all of my music (up to 25,000 songs), access all of it via wifi on both the iPad and iPhone, and cache music on either device when I’m on the go. It isn’t the most perfect solution – caching music definitely takes some time, so I have to plan ahead for road trips or running – but it’s feasible and didn’t dig too deep into my pocket.

Hardware:

With prep work completed, I was ready to purchase the iPad along with two pieces of hardware to make the machine work more like a laptop (for me at least).

1. An external keyboard. I went with Apple’s bluetooth keyboard ($69) because I know there will be plenty of times when I just want to use the iPad by itself just for reading or browsing the web. I know others who swear by the keyboards built into cases, like these from Brooks Brothers, and that seems like a sound option if you don’t mind the extra accessory when you’re reading. I also wanted something that mimicked the keyboard on my MacBook fairly closely and thus far I’ve appreciated the similar feel of the keys, the presence of volume control key, and the familiar placement of the command functions. The only thing I’ve found slightly irritating is the necessity of turning off the bluetooth keyboard when I want to switch back to the pop-up keyboard on the iPad. But I think that’s just taking a little getting used to.

2. A lightning to VGA cable. This was a preemptive buy on my part and not necessarily something I’m going to use on a daily basis. Just a piece that’s good to have around for an academic, or anyone who frequently gives presentations, I think. Said cable (which retails for $49) will allow me to present slide shows, YouTube clips, and interactive maps, for instance, through the usual set up in a classroom. I used the equivalent cable for my MacBook at least twice a week when I taught this spring.

3. While I only found two pieces of hardware necessary to this early endeavor, there are a few cables and cords that would probably be useful or at least nice to have in the future. A lightning to AV cable would let me hook the iPad up to a tv for movie viewing via Netflix; an external mousepad might make document editing a little faster (though thus far just tapping and highlighting on the screen or using the keyboard arrows has been simple enough). If I was going to do more music recording via GarageBand or some serious podcasting, an external mic might also be nice.

Apps:

This has been the category with the biggest learning curve, a noticeable financial investment, and by far the most fun to figure out. I knew some of the apps I needed ahead of time, but I’ve been finding others as problems crop up. Here’s what I’ve found to be most useful or essential for productivity and play thus far:

1. Pages and Keynote. There’s a good chance I’m going to write some or all of my dissertation on this machine, so a word processing app was a must. There are other apps with fewer bells and whistles than this one, but after trying to format Publisher documents to no end of frustration over the last few years, Pages with its multiple document formats and easy to use templates was worth the $9.99. Ditto to Keynote (also $9.99), which will stand in for PowerPoint.
2. iAnnotate. I frequently utilize JSTOR, Sage, PubMed, ProQuest and the like for research purposes and I like the option of downloading, saving, and marking up a PDF version of an article. While you can read PDFs whenever you like on the iPad with Adobe’s free app, storing, organizing, and annotating is another story. I went with iAnnotate on this one because the review were better – though Good Reader is a little cheaper. iAnnotate allows for underlining, writing, highlighting, and commenting and there are additional markings for grades, bookmarks, stamps, etc. if you wanted to use it for grading and/or feedback. It syncs with Dropbox (hooray!) and allows for organization via file folders on the iPad. Nifty, right?

The only hitch so far is that some PDFs don’t allow me to use all of the features – for some files from Sage, for instance, I can underline manually with a stylus or my finger, but I can’t use the highlighter function. Files from JSTOR, by contrast, allow for the use of all tools. It’s not a huge deal, but I didn’t expect that particular limitation.

3. Kindle for iPad. iBooks just doesn’t carry everything, so occasionally I need to purchase an ebook from Amazon instead. I’m not a huge fan of this reading app – there’s no continuous scrolling, for instance – but it does allow for highlighting and commenting, which is helpful and it’s free.

4. FlickStackr. When I tried to access and organize some photos on the Flickr free app, it just wouldn’t work. I could view everything, but I couldn’t do anything with it. Enter FlickStackr, the companion app ($3.99). This is where I can organize, edit, share, and upload and it’s super easy to use. I’m a little peeved that I had to pay for it (was forced to, really) but it was an easy enough fix and it’s been worth the few dollars it cost.

5. Puffin Web Browser. Remember how iPad doesn’t run flash sites? Well that’s an issue when you want to chat remotely with someone for your bank, for instance, or you want to access the site of the DJ you used for your wedding so you can recommend him to someone else. Again, this wasn’t something I figured on, but it was a quick fix. Puffin Web Browser, somehow or another, runs flash. It has a free trial (14 days) and is only $2.99 after that. It’s faster than Safari and you don’t have to second guess whether a site will appear. It still has it’s limits – I can’t use Shutterfly or Blurb, alas – but seems to work for most of what I need it to.

6. KeepShot. What to do for photobooks, calendars, and kitschy Christmas mugs then? Enter KeepShot, a free app that works with Flickr and Facebook, has reasonably priced photobooks (50% off for new users, even!), and a fully customizable layout. It’s a great app – when it works. It definitely crashes pretty frequently and I’ve read that some users have difficulty ordering through the site (I haven’t tried that yet…). But if developers can fix the bugs (the app is still pretty new), this will be a wonderful thing. I’m holding out hope.

7. Blogsy. I’m writing to you today from an app, not from WordPress. Because WordPress, Blogspot, etc. haven’t quite gotten the hang of providing for mobile and iPad users yet. But again – a quick fix, and this time a free one. Blogsy syncs with multiple blog sites as well as with my Photos, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Picasa. I can type and edit and format and add photos in the app then publish directly to my site. It’s handy and easy to use with most of the bells and whistles you’d hope for – easy insertion of hyperlinks, font options, the ability to save drafts, and easy access to photos and videos. (Though I’m having some trouble locating the spell check, if there is one…) I won’t use this one a lot, because I’m terrible at remembering to blog half of what I think I might, but it will come in handy now and then.

8. And then there are the “just for fun” apps that are great for the occasional (or frequent) distractions. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have apps. Spotify gives access to its radio stations, though not the entirety of its collection (which is a little disappointing). Heads Up is an easy, social, sometimes riotous game that combines Taboo and Charades and parts of Cranium. Feedly is a replacement for Google Reader and keeps me up to date on the blogs I follow, all in one place. And then there’s the Newsstand with at least partial freebies from the New Yorker, Economist, Atlantic, HuffPost Magazine, Ms., and the London Times, among others. I also added the NYT – a $1 subscription for 3 months digital access? Why thank you, LivingSocial app. Don’t mind if I do.