Shame and Misdirection

[Although I am tempted to write about how terribly I did in the classroom today, cooler heads have prevailed, and instead…(but I did want you to know, the first day is my worst (let’s hope))…If only I read had and adopted some of these tips.]

The temptation to detail every bit of personal minutia is very strong in this culture and this moment. It is easy to discount this phenomena as the simple multiplicative function of digital technology and unprecedented levels of self-absorption and “me-ness.” However, I hope that most sociologists see it as an opportunity for unimaginable insight into the human condition–insight that would never be gained through surveys, or interviews, or even observation. This is because the self-documenters (more on them in a minute, with examples) both obsessively categorize and document every waking minute (as opposed to relying on their opinions or perceptions, made errorfull by time or from shame…or our own biased opinions of the world we witness) and they tell us what to pay attention to. That is, they tell us what biostatistics, or opinions, or perceptions, most strongly characterize their own experience. It is as if our respondents can now tell us what questions to ask, before we even tell them why we’re calling.

The (Nicholas) Feltron Reports are the most extreme (and well-designed) example of this phenomena. To me, these reports are magical.

Some may prefer a pared-down approach, with summary documentation, provided daily via RSS feed. For example, McLeod’s Morale-O-Meter, records morale, health, sleep, alcohol and caffeine of one man, daily, and provides the data in an easy-to-read histogram.

While tied in a somewhat unfortunate way to parenting paranoia, the Trixie Tracker illustrates exactly the sociological potential to which I wish to point: even parents who obsess over baby’s every minute may be unable to identify the destructive rhythms in their sleep cycle related to all manner of early life dysfunction. Thus, the formal attributes of experience are unveiled through the rigorous collection of data.

Cultural conservatives will decry this state of affairs–privacy! other-directedness! self-effacement! modesty!–but it simply isn’t different in kind from keeping a journal. The privacy issue is hard to debate, although I see no evidence of the mellifluous effects of public knowledge that you drank a beer Monday night. I suppose if you drank a six pack every night…

And if you, too, would like to join these ranks, I understand Daytum is almost ready to go.

Most of the above, h/t Kottke.

Also, there’s Peter’s desire to create his own happiness index.  If you haven’t already, pop over and give him some feedback.

Plus which, if memory serves there’s a Silicon Valley dude who is documenting everything–photos, letters, etc.–and loading it all up into huge databases.  Tips on who this might be er welcome.



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5 responses to “Shame and Misdirection

  1. Nicholas

    thanks for the insightful post… I believe that Gordon Bell at microsoft is the man you are thinking of… be sure to read the new yorker profile.

  2. I’m still wrestling with what to do on the first day. I have students introduce themselves and all of that, but it still seems like they’re zombies. Any sort of group activities seem forced or goofy, at least for upper-division classes. But blowing through the syllabus and just letting them go early sets the wrong tone, too. I’d like to just say, “hey, I get great evals, and this is going to be a good class, trust me,” but that’s obviously not the way to go.

    I just had a student drop my Inequality class less than 30 minutes after it ended. Harsh!

  3. This is me

    It was Gordon Bell and his MyLifeBits that I was thinking of, Nicholas. Thanks.

    And I’m glad to have company, Dave P. Telling them your interior monologue is not a successful strategy either, btw. And I welcome the drops. I end up most frustrated by the students who stay, when they should leave.

  4. I feel like I’ve run the gamut – from having an awesome first day to forgetting to bring syllabi to class (woot!). I’m feeling more of the latter than the former feeling of foreboding for next week’s beginning of term.

    During my soc of us econ life, when there’s enough students, I auction off a $10 bill, .50 at a time, with the condition that the person who wins gets the bill and the person who comes in second pays what they bid. Someone usually bids over $10. Then I do a second bill, which again goes over $10. Also, usually gets into a good substantive discussion about the importance of the underlying rules through which markets work rather than ‘markets always work’.

    My friend Carlos used to, first day of intro to sociology, do a full-on hip hop dance lesson (and once came into class dancing, left class for a moment for a frickin’ costume change, and resumed the routine. He had 10 rules to ‘how to be an awesome dancer’ that demonstrated the social construction of good dancing. I dream one day of hiring a student to enter in front of me, tossing rose petals.

  5. Jenn Lena

    I plan on a 180 degree about-face tomorrow. I will be awesome, too. My trick will be to break out the learnin’.

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