Digital Footprint in the Afterlife

20 Sep

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In “This Is How Technology Ruins Society” news this week, Facebook used a dead young woman’s tagged photo to advertise a dating site. Once it was brought to their attention, the social media site issued an apology and removed the ad. What makes this story even more tragic are the details surrounding the death of the woman in the image. Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life this past April after severe, aggressive and relentless online bullying following a sexual assault.

This incident sheds light on the larger story of how long our online identities live beyond our physical existence and how the sites where we are building and sharing our identities are using what we consider our personal content to earn revenue from their advertisers, mostly without our explicit permission. When my best friend died in 2009, Facebook was not yet using the photos we’d uploaded of our college days and fun nights out to promote weight loss, vacations or dating sites. In the aftermath of her very unexpected and painful death, I can’t imagine how upset I would be if I looked to the right panel of Facebook and saw her smiling face hawking some jewelry line or teeth whitening (she has a great smile, I wouldn’t put it past the algorithm to pick that up). I will say, I’m glad that her page wasn’t immediately removed in the months after her death, as her friends, family, coworkers and even people who didn’t know her sought to share their grief through posting memories of better times.

Never did I think that the 21st century of a baby book of memories, the Facebook album dedicated to the life of a child, would become fodder for online ads. The advancement in technology – facial recognition, anyone! – means that even if you don’t tag a person, the Internet can still recognize them, associate that image with them and connect the two with a simple search. Almost frightening and…sentient, isn’t it? Because of this, I refrain from posting pictures of the children of friends. What was a funny picture of a 1-year-old smearing cake on their face at their birthday party isn’t so funny when they’re in middle school and trying not to stand out as the “weird kid.” Interestingly enough, the FTC is creeped out as well. The federal regulator is launching an investigation to see if the latest round of privacy setting allowing advertisers to use photos violates a 2011 agreement.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with this thought, as evidenced by a recent wildly popular post by Amy Webb of Slate. Webb said that she and her husband refuse to post images of their daughter on the Internet- the Internet responded by finding pictures that other people had posted. Ahh, Internet justice, is there anything sweeter?

I think it may be too late for me; my face is out there, for better or worse. Thankfully I learned (fairly) quickly that putting down your drink of choice and not giving any ironic/offensive/odd facial and hand expressions makes for a safer (for life and job searches) online social presence.

What do you think of the fact that you can no longer disappear online? Did you start curbing and editing your identity?

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The End Is Near

7 Sep

It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you without a…well, you know the rest if you’re a hip-hop fan. I’ve had fifty-eleven post ideas run through my head. Really, how couldn’t I be inspired by the cultural appropriation of Miley Cyrus at the MTV VMA Awards, the news about Netflix for Emmy Awards, usually the accolade reserved for television-based entertainment, my recent cable upgrade that gives me access to new movie channels (winning!) and various other topics of interest. So I do apologize to my (few) readers and to myself for the slackery.

Today, the topic is the end. The end of a life-defining journey. The end…of graduate school. This is my last semester, and it has me feeling some kind of way. I’ve formed such good relationships with my classmates, and in the course of our two years of knowing each other we have seen folks get married, have kids and supported each other through tragic events. Already we’ve had some graduations, and though we keep in touch in our Facebook group, it’s not the same as giving knowing looks at each other across FA 414 as we wait for the clock to tick down to 8:49:59 and we can calmly start gathering our books, notes and run toward the door. Okay, it’s not that bad but after nearly three hours, you’re ready to stop listening to words.

I will admit, a part of me is not ready for the idea of not having the kinds of discussions that are the staple of graduate school. It’s the entire reason I have devoted at least one night a week to talking theory, subjectivity and objectivity, 20-page research reports and current trends. When I began college, I thought I was going to be a math major…but then I really looked at the work expected of me and took a left turn. I knew I didn’t want to do English, mostly because I had no desire to read the “classics” and parse them for years to come. Though I came out of school right before the economic crash, I was wise enough to know that an English degree wasn’t going to put a lot of food on the table, whether it was feast or famine season in the economy. My initial reaction to the Intro to Communication class was “Oh, wow, so this is how the sausage is made?” My studies and career in communication has made me more selective of my media and more analytical of what I read and believe in the newspaper.

My final class is a bit of a hodgepodge but it combines all of the topics I love: language, culture and communication. In one class, we talked about accent tag videos (seriously, I can’t stop watching them), neologisms and the power it takes to create a new word, language versus speech, individual versus social functions of language and all the topics that make me go back and read and reread sentences. Although we’re focusing on the language of the States, I’d love to study the patois of the Caribbean Islands, especially considering there is such a diversity of language based on the various countries that colonized the region and the influence of indigenous mother tongue.

This week we get into language and gender, and my reading is from Judith Butler, whose name I remember from undergraduate studies. I’ll let that reading, and the other 80-odd pages be my inspiration for writing. Then, before I know it, it’ll be over.

My battle with travel preparedness

15 Aug

I crouched down on the sidewalk, rifling through my suitcase at a rabid pace, considering dumping all my worldly goods in my search. I looked up at the receding bumper driven by my host, then toward the elevator that I should be on, taking me down to the subway and eventually to the airport. I say should because I cannot find my passport and my breathing is coming at a rapid pace as I try to remember where last I had it. I’m the last of the study abroad students that stayed at the flat to leave back to the States, and I have no one to call if I can’t find my documents. By the grace of God, my host mother, as they like to consider themselves, happened to look at the rear view mirror and see my distress. Two days, a flight change and an early morning visit to the mailing company to open a suitcase that was supposed to be shipped back home to rescue my inadvertently packed passport and I was on my way.

You can ask anyone close to me, I can be absentminded to a fault when it comes to travel. In my early 20s, I was the “show up half an hour before departure” kind of traveler, overpacking my suitcase and yet forgetting toothpaste and a scarf to wrap my hair. After the travel abroad incident, along with a forgotten laptop that almost made my sister push me onto the Tube tracks, I knew I had to wizen up or risk some miserable trips. Working in the travel industry put me in contact with people who could pack a carry on in their sleep and make sure the baby had their favorite blanket, toy and food. Since I am not traveling with kids, I had no excuse not to learn quickly from their examples.

It began with figuring out how to pack one bag for several days. This decision was hastened by the increasing cost of checking luggage (seriously though, $25 per bag, highway robbery). The way that airlines are charging nickel and dime fees, soon I’m sure we will be paying for carry on bags too. The CEO of Ryanair thinks so too.

Soon after mastering single bag packing, I conquered the “all liquids in a quart size bag,” “getting to the gate with an hour to spare so you can actually breathe or have a drink,” and finally “ALWAYS take a piece of fruit and mixed nuts with you” because sis, these airlines are not here to provide you with sustenance. In preparing for an upcoming trip too see my sister, I reached a new level of preparedness: outfit planning. Like, proper “On Wednesdays we wear pink” kind of planning. Day outfit, night outfit for each day plus an extra just to be safe. And I managed to get it in my carry on size suitcase. Needless to say, I’m quite proud of myself, much like how those Candy Crush players get when someone gives them new levels.

Oh, and on this trip, my passport is safely in my bag…the one next to me.

What I’m Reading – August 5, 2013

5 Aug

I’m delayed, I know!

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I’m currently reading “Open City” by Teju Cole, which transports me to the innermost thoughts of the protagonist. The layer by layer reveal of information about the narrator is suspenseful and keeps me coming back. Concurrently, I’m reading “Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart” by Alice Walker. Her narrative is so dense and packed with rich language and imagery that I must slow my speed and let the prose stay and rest in my mind so I fully comprehend her story.

I’ve been wanting to read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” for a while so I’ll likely have to renew that rental. “The Little Black Book of Success” is a classic personal development text and it came highly recommended from one of the best, my mom.

Finally, since I just finished reading “Super Sad True Love Story” and I love me some io9, I have to share this story. The book’s author, Gary Shteyngart, tries out Google Glasses, which are conceptually similar to the “äppärät,” a central device Shteyngart’s characters use to communicate with friends and family, blog, live stream and email.

What’s on your reading list? Any sci-fi or business books?

Missing My (Blogging) Anniversary

5 Aug

On Saturday, it hit me like a sack of bricks….I’ve been blogging for two years and completely missed my anniversary. In my youth, those kinds of milestones – one month, six months, a year – mattered much more because I held my relationships so close. Aging, work and other obligations and general forgetfulness (must pick up that ginkgo biloba) has made it so only birthdays and holidays stand out for me, and I even put my boyfriend’s birthday a month later for the first year of our relationship.

When I first started this blogging thing, I had just begun graduate school. I was all wide eyed and excited about furthering my education. Today, as a “veteran” of research and cranking out papers on a regular basis, I feel like that weathered lone gun who speaks only cryptic sentences around the ever-present toothpick between my teeth as I recline in the back corner of class. I’m only six hours from finishing, so close I can smell the knowledge emanating from the graduation robe and see the free nights and weekends like I was thinking of switching phone carriers.

I would also say that I’ve gotten much more personal over the years. In the last six months alone, I’ve talked about my career diversion, taking on a career coach and my faith. The center of my life has shifted from work to personal fulfillment as I came to realize that earning a paycheck didn’t mean much if you had to grit your teeth to get through the day. I like and need all my back teeth folks. Still working on finding my intersection of “total job satisfaction” and “adequate pay for work” but worrying about the journey won’t get me there any faster.

Anyway, I just had to write through my astonishment that my online journaling has been going on this long, and my excitement in seeing my thoughts, inspiration and maturation in the form of my written thoughts. Thank you for being part of this thing, when you’ve left comments, subscribed or even just perused a few posts. You rock my socks, and I appreciate you. Namaste.

Photography Post – Baby Z In the Park

4 Aug

The story of how I got my camera is part funny, part shady. An ex of mine from back to high school brought it with him when he came to see me. After seeing how interested I was in learning how it worked, he told me to hold on to it after he went back to school (in another state mind you). Things went sour, as they do when you’re young, dumb and not exactly sensitive to the needs of others (this was on both sides), and I offered to send the camera back. I’m still not sure if he was being gentlemanly or simply wanted to be rid of me, but he never did send me a FedEx number to use on the return slip. Six or seven year later, the math is fuzzy, I have myself a nice Canon EOS 40D camera, along with a spectacular lens, courtesy of my uber-supportive mother.

I’ve taken a course in the basics of aperture, shutter speed, manual versus automatic mode and ISO, and I can take a decent enough picture when necessary. There are still many topics left to cover, and I need to brush up on what I think I know (thanks Lifehacker!). They say the best way to learn photography is just to go take pictures, and I’ve definitely slacked on that, what with the getting fired and working on on the whole crisis of confidence thing.

Today though, I got a chance to take photos of Baby Z for her upcoming first birthday. Since I keep my private life exactly that, private, I won’t reveal whose stunning child she is. However, if you know me and my circle personally, you’ll know exactly whose child she is because she is a spittin’ image. Thanks to the parents for letting me post this. And I will do my best to post more of my photography, just another step in improving myself.

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On Dealing with Grief

30 Jul

Walking down the hallway, looking sidelong into passing doorways, I saw a head bent and titled at an angle that was achingly familiar. For a second, I expected her head to pop up, the mile-wide grin and lit-up eyes accompanying a squeal that could be recognized across campus. But I wasn’t at SMU anymore, I’ve long since graduated and I’m walking down the hallways of my graduate university. And the capped head didn’t belong to my best friend, because she’s been gone for more than four years.

My grief is a topic that I keep to myself. It doesn’t crop up regularly, on the first and the fifteenth to accompany my paycheck. It is subtle, hidden in cues like inflections of the voice and the long-legged gait of strangers who bring to mind all the ways I remember her. It doesn’t feel like a tidal wave of sadness but more like a trickle of pain. I consider where she would have been in life, her career, her love life and the next generation she would have showered in her affections. As more of our cohorts pledge lifelong bonds through engagements, marriages and the production of tiny versions of themselves, I struggle to reconcile how excited I am with the fact that someone who always celebrated with me isn’t part of this journey.

One memory that carries me through is the grace of her family, their heads held high through the injustice of it all. Perhaps they kept it bottled in to release it in their prayers, or during a run  or with a counselor. All I know is what I see, which is almost otherworldly in presence and love. It inspires me, and I’m convinced it’s her spirit being channeled back to the Earth, to give us comfort. And it brings me peace.

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