The idea for this piece came from a real-life situation. There is a slight chance that you don’t know what a Memoji is, and you are going to need this piece of information. If you own an Apple device, its latest operating system carries a feature that allows you to create an emoji of yourself. The amount of detail you can apply to it is astounding, almost every detail is customizable. So there we were at my 9-to-5 job, comparing our respective Memojis, and someone proposed a contest of sorts: whose looked more realistic?
It does not matter who won (I did), or how slow that day at work was (very much). The fact of the matter is that this silly competition lead to a very thought provoking debate about identity, technology and capitalism.
At first glance, this Memoji feature looks more than fine. A chance to express yourself and your individuality with pride, because all genders, skin colors, religions and styles are included. Plus, they are so cute! Who would say no to diversity and fun?
Capitalism needs a cute face to hide its (many) evil deeds – and this is no exception. True inclusion and diversity are yet to be achieved in workplaces, schools and everyday life. This kind of representation is a start, but we should not be deceived. However, the conversation I would like to start will take us somewhere else.
Think of the digital devices you own. What kind of apps are in them? Which are the ones you use more frequently? Do you have an Apple Watch of FitBit, perchance? Do you use Endomondo, Goodreads, perhaps a water intake tracker? Do you ever check the step counter that comes with your phone as an in-built app? I do. Yes to all of the above.
What do all of the aforementioned have in common? They collect your data and register your actions. You feed them information, and they show you stats. They may help you achieve your goals, whichever they may be: fitness, reading, nutrition…the sky is the limit. In order to avoid paranoia and conspiracy theories, I will not even address the fact that your data is collected by people other than you for commercial purposes. I am more interested in what happens to our identity, when we create this digital self-image and feed it every day with what we are – but expecting to get what we wanna be.
And then, there’s the God everybody’s praying to: productivity.
The five AM club is a thing. These people share tips to wake up at 5 AM and even earlier – what they don’t share, however, is what for. Although going to bed and waking up at regular hours it has been proven as a healthy habit, how early is too early? Moreover, this kind of clubs decide to ignore individual differences. Some people are just night owls. Others function best in the morning, and that is why we call them early birds. Standardization may be good for industrial procedures, but I don’t think it is for human beings.
A passion for data.
We are obsessed with our own stats, it seems. À propos the Spotify 2019 wrapped feature, writer Callum Marsh reflects:
“Data tells us something definitive and inarguable, and we are edified by hard numbers — numbers that firmly audit and evaluate the messy, often amorphous ways we tend to choose what to listen to day after day. You may like to think of yourself as a bona fide rock fan whose favourites are serious and cool. But what something like Wrapped can tell you is whether your routines bear that out. (…) Someone benefiting enormously from all this ecstatic stats-sharing: Spotify, which is currently enjoying more free advertising on Twitter, Instagram,and Facebook than it could ever hope to secure by other means. Clearly, as a marketing campaign for the streaming service, Wrapped is brilliant and absurdly successful: All these fervently posted infographics combine to form a collective image of Spotify as the most indispensable music app in the world right now, obsessively used by everyone you know. (…)
But at the end of the day, we’re all too invested in hearing about ourselves and sharing the conclusions to resist.”
It is not about becoming paranoid, either. We need to face that technology is overstepping human subjectivity in ways that are not always to our liking nor our convenience. The fact is that many of us go to bed wearing wristwatches that measure our every bodily function. At this point, is there a place or a time in our lives where or when technology does not meddle with human existence? It is indeed a matter of control and surveillance, but what I find more alarming is the effacement of human subjectivity that comes with technology overstepping each and every one of our boundaries.
“Nobody cares about your Spotify 2019 wrapped”.
We have become so obsessed with our own stats that we end up alienating others. Everybody wants to become “social” by sharing their stats, but how many more Spotify wrap-ups on every social media can we take before going insane?
seeing everyones spotify wrapped: wow im not all that interested
me posting my spotify wrapped: everyone will enjoy this from me, the protagonist of life
— Melanie Bracewell (@meladoodle) December 5, 2019
it’s like i know ur selling my data but it’s nice when you let me see it pic.twitter.com/4HW2IE856K
— jaboukie (@jaboukie) December 5, 2019
We grow isolated by falling in love with out online persona…or rather the fictional self-image that technology gives back to us, just like a broken mirror would.
New technologies are constantly giving off a certain message. Happiness is just a step away! But you’re either too lazy or too coward (or both) to take that step. Technology is making us slowly – but surely – pushing us into believing that we are to blame. To blame for what? Well, for being
We created technology, ergo, it should bear some human resemblance. Paradoxically, human beings are breaking their backs every day to look like their creation.
It’s high time we turned the tables.