Resources for understanding data mining and your privacy

Here is a small selection of videos and articles to give you an overview on the subjects of big data, data mining and privacy concerns. I highly recommend watching the first two at least, they are short and succinct and very informative.


Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, director of computer-human interaction at the University of Maryland The Curly Fry Conundrum


60 minutes broadcast on The Data Brokers 60 minutes report on the Data Brokers


How the NSA can turn on your cell phone remotely NSA turning on your phone


Facebook microphone app The Facebook microphone app


Facebook manipulating Newsfeeds for social experiments Facebook research article – Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences

Watching the watchers

We are all becoming more aware of how much of our personal data, our digital expressions of volition in the big data landscape, is being collected, used and sold. Our movements on the web, our page views, our likes, our social networks are mapped, categorized and transmuted into big dollars for large and often unseen corporations. For instance Twitter made around $70 million dollars in 2013 by selling off the data made by what you like, who you are friends with and what you hashtag.

The first step we must all take to arrest this runaway train of big brother hegemony is to understand just exactly how much of our data is being watched and collected. How many watchers are lurking on each page we visit. How much of our digital volition are they collecting.

To understand more about big data, exhaust data and data barons I suggest you visit here Digital terra forming

But this post is to give you some useful on the ground tools to start to monitor the activities of data collection tools on your computer, your browser and your digital life.

First I recommend you download and install this is a great little app that can easily show you how many data collectors there are on each page you visit. When you install the app it will show in the top bar of your browser, a little red bubble will show you how many different agencies are collecting your information on that page. You can click on it to get more detailed information about these watchers. There is a short little video here that it explains what it does video

The app is open source, pay what you want. That means you can download it free or make a donation. 

There are many names for what is going on right now and some people call it the Filter Bubble. A good article about what you can do to pop your filter bubble can be found here 10 things you can do to pop your filter bubble.

One great piece of advice I found on this was about the cookies on your computer. I use Safari on my computer so I found that if I went to Safari/preferences/privacy and clicked on more details I could see what cookies had been installed onto my computer from other people. Some of these cookies are helpful for logging in to frequently used sites but some were from sites that I had only visited once or didn’t even know what they were. By holding down the command button and clicking on all the ones I wanted to remove I felt like I was pulling sucking leeches off my computer.

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 8.36.22 AM


Well that’s a good start! 

I am stumbling my way through all of this just the same as many, many people out there. It is long past time that we took control of our digital privacy and start to make these steps. I hope that governments can be convinced and empowered to also protect us but until then we do all need to take responsibility as well.

If you have any suggestions or tips or tricks for protecting your digital privacy please comment on this post!.



Electric Fairyland – July 2014

Electric Fairyland 

musings by Bec Johnson – July 2014

The close of the 19th century saw technological progress take leaps and bounds, dragging along the constituents of society giggling and shrieking with simultaneous delight and apprehension of what the future was to bring. The world was changing at an unprecedented pace and this graduation of human achievement over environment deserved celebration. The first such was the Crystal Palace exhibition in London of 1851 where the focus was on the scientific revolution. Never to be outdone on a party, the French exploded this celebration to a gaudy and glamorous “Electrical Fairyland” extravaganza at the 1900, Parisian World Fair.

The 1900 exhibition was far more than a showcasing of scientific achievement, “[it] provide[d] a scale model of the consumer revolution” (Williams, 1986). At this fair the focus was shifted to the art of selling the dream, and capturing the imagination (and purse strings) of a new class of society, the consumer. Under the glow of electric light, exhibitors at the 1900 fair took merchandising to new heights accomplished by “appealing to the fantasies of the consumer. The conjunction of banking and dreaming”, (Williams, 1986). Ong’s premise that “sight isolates” (1982) is never so emphatically disproved as it is in this example of society uniting as a collective consumer consciousness under the lighting spectacles of 1900 Paris.

Consumerism among the masses had been primarily a result of necessity since the dawn of time; based on the trading of food and other commodities required for sustaining life. The physical needs of people almost always coming before the “needs of imagination”. With the technological revolution the general populous had more dispensable income, products could be more cheaply made and it was only a tick of the electric clock before the astute business people of society sought to profit from this new world order. “The lesson of things…was that a dream world of the consumer was emerging”, (Williams, 1986).

This paradigm shift in the nature of consumerism also lead to department stores and fixed pricing, ironically divorcing the buyer from taking an active part in the creation of the sale, at a time when the buyer was also experiencing an expansion of consciousness through this new technology. “[A] simple touch of the finger on a lever, and a wire as thick as a pencil throws upon the Monumental Gateway” (Corday, 1900, as cited by Williams, 1986). This sentiment can be compared to that of Carey’s on another technological revolution, “The telegraph permitted…a thoroughly encephalated social nervous system in which signaling was divorced from musculature.” (1989). McLuhan takes this train of thought one step further, positing that “With the arrival of electric technology, man has extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself.”

In this new “Electrical fairyland”, a world in which the imagination within is lighted by the glow of electric light from without, the inner desires of the buyer are tempted with the promise of manifestation of their fantasies. Williams says of 1900 Paris, “Glowing pleasure domes…a collective sense of life in a dream world”, words reminiscent of Coleridge’s “sunny pleasure domes with caves of ice” (1786). Villiers dry remark “Heaven will finally make something of itself” (cited by Williams 1986) demonstrates his “forebodings of the moral consequences when commerce seizes all visions” (Williams, 1986).

And here we stand, a century later, to view the resultant leviathan of consumerism. An age in which, material gain has become a religion. An age in which people buy imaginary objects in the imaginary electrical fairyland of online gaming; long since abandoning any pretense at necessity other than the promise to fill the existential void of self with something external, sparkling, new and….electrifying!

The First Age of Consumerism


These Neolithic clay tokens found at Susa currently reside at the Louvre. It is believed these tokens were used for trade and commerce, likely for things such as sheep and wheat. (Schmandt-Besserat, 1992). This is the age of consumerism as necessity.

The Second Age of Consumerism


The Trocadero Palace at the 1900 Paris world fair ushered in a new age of consumerism selling dreams as merchandise under the glow of the electric light. People are convinced of necessity of manifestation of their desires where before they had been complacent with these inner thoughts as purely fantasy not reality.

The Third Age of Consumerism

second life

These virtual boots (that only exist in an online gaming world) can be purchased on Second Life marketplace for L$24,000. That is roughly $113 real US dollars according to the Virtual World Bank. They were sold out on the day of viewing, 12th June 2014.

#TheSelfie, Gone_Viral @Performativity – june 2014

#TheSelfie,  Gone_Viral  @Performativity

musings by: Bec Johnson, June 2014

The “Selfie” is not new. Since Robert Cornelius created a daguerreotype self portrait in 1839[1] humans have enjoyed this extension of self through the indifferent gaze of technology. The burgeoning of new media in the early 21st century with social platforms such as My Space and Facebook, as well as the continuing popularity of chat rooms, saw a new form of online personal portraiture. Often, the primary purpose of this new agency of performance was to make oneself look desirable and attractive to friends and potential sexual partners. These images were generally of poor quality, often taken in a bathroom mirror, sometimes in sexually suggestive poses and commonly reflecting the male gaze of society.

Proponents of feminist theory were quick to condemn these images as “a cry for help” (Andreasson, 2014) by young women lost in a ubiquitous sea of online identity crafting. Other feminists countered that it was empowering women with “tiny bursts of pride” (Simmons, 2013) and facilitating them with a new tool of expression. In fact much debate has raged over the internet and in above-the-line media in the last twelve months about whether such images are narcissistic or empowering, reinforcements of the male gaze or liberating for women, good or bad. Ultimately, both sides of this debate have much to commend them. On Facebook, the Selfies Research Network group, founded by Theresa Sneft, a teacher at NYU, has 1,162 members as at 29th June 2014, and is aimed at academics looking for a forum to discuss the Selfie phenomenon; it has strong feminist perspective. Performativity of gender has dominated discussion of the Selfie to date.

However, something bigger is happening and it is happening organically, virally and in the global subconsciousness of the 3 billion people (Internet Live Stats, 2014) connected to the worldwide web, and it is happening right now. When Apple released the iPhone 4 in June 2010 with a front facing camera, did this represent technology bending to global pressure? Or, was this technological determinism at play, directing our performativity like a master puppeteer?

A movement gains strength and momentum when it has a label or a name to rally around; that was given to us by a drunken university student in Australia on 13th September 2002. The Oxford Dictionary cites the earliest known use of the word in this text message, “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a Selfie.” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013). The accompanying image was a far cry from the hotly debated and stereotypical images of torsos, cleavage and seductive expressions. Perhaps this is why the word has stood the test of time (a veritable eon in the online world) and been taken up by a wider demographic as it carries broader implications than a simplistic myopia of physicality.

The article from Oxford Dictionaries on 19th November 2013, also proclaimed a 17,000% increase in use of the word over the previous twelve months, thus making it a clear winner for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. The colloquial label for this visual self-narrative was made official and, through the power of symbol sometimes attributed to the most powerful words of rhetoric, we have tabled a new topic for discourse.

We have moved far beyond the narrow scope of performativity originally ascribed to what we, now term, the Selfie. The original exploration of performativity of this social trend was primarily in gender studies; as well as analysis of narcissism with implications of self worth; thus we must establish our nomenclature of performativity. Judith Butler has produced the bulk of seminal work on the subject.

“…[this] concept emphasizes the extent to which performance realizes, or makes real, identities and experiences. […]actions and identities are real only to the extent that they are performed…[…] This implies that performativity is not the mere representation of preexisting identity (or other reality); performativity means that it is in performance that we enact, or generate, the very phenomenon to which performativity refers.” (Butler, 1990; Diamond, 1996: cited in Wood 2004)

To understand the broader implications of performativity in the context of the Selfie we must look at the expanded parameters and elements of this unique visual narrative in play today. Selfies consist of layers of signs and signifiers that communicate in a moment what may take many, many pages of text. The levels of meaning that comprise a Selfie can be categorized as:

  • Facial expression: This aspect alone communicates volumes of information about you and how you are feeling at that moment.
  • Basic physical characteristics: Apparent age, male or female, with a physical disability, what race or colour.
  • Body language: Head tilt, hand gestures, photo bombing, striking a sexually seductive pose, mouth open or closed?
  • Presentation: clothes and hairstyle; wounds, physical disability, spectacles, type of spectacles, habit – a turban, a burkah, ski wear, a military uniform.
  • Accompaniment: Who with? Substances carried. Setting, i.e. alone, in a crowd, an intimate situation, a loved one, a famous person. Relationship with the person, turning towards or away or indifferent.
  • Surrounds: A personal space, bedroom, scene of an event, famous landmark. Buildings or objects, Starbucks, Samsung phone, a weapon.
  • Angle: Angle used, focus to chest or torso, above or below, just feet proving that you indeed “stood here”.
  • Filter: Use of filters, soft and vintage, sharp and monochrome; with or without a border.
  • Medium used: FB, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat.
  • Frequency of releasing Selfies.
  • Viewer’s context: Substance and cultural context. Call to action?


Who, then, is performing right now? Obviously the Kardashians and Beyoncé’s of the world took to the art of the Selfie as if it were their new religion; but, what is infinitely more interesting is the many other people on the world stage who have indulged in this performance agency of self in the last twelve months.

The first ever Papal Selfie was sent live in August 2013 and since then this new, more accessible Pope has appeared in a number of Selfies on his Instagram account. “Since the Pope was selected in March, he has made clear his intention to connect with young people, and to move the Papacy into a more modern, informal age,” observed the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph (Alexander, 2013) It would seem clear that the Pope is not seeking to make any statement about his gender or sexual preferences, he is trying to attract more ‘followers’ to his Instagram account …or church. He is image crafting via the most current and accessible magic bullet to bring youth into his flock

papal selfie Papal selfie

World political leaders were quick to grasp on this new, liberating Selfie, freed from the sordid connotations of an online dating profile picture. We have seen Selfies from the heads of state of: France, Singapore, Belgium, Israel, Russia and many other countries. The one that topped the charts in this category was that of Obama and the Prime Ministers of the U.K. and Denmark, a little trinity of power sharing a Selfie moment of merriment…at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Michelle Obama was just the first to express her displeasure at such childish joviality at the memorial service of one of the world’s greatest leaders for human rights.


So what was their intent of performativity? It would appear they didn’t pause to consider, being swept away in the Selfie moment. Evidence that discourse on the communicated intention of the Selfie is a vitally needed lesson for even the most powerful world leaders. A Tumblr page produced by Jason Feifer to explore the phenomenon of Selfies at funerals was closed when Feifer announced victory in the Guardian, “Obama has taken a selfie at a funeral. Our work here is done” (Feifer, 2013). This is a firm example of the performativity gaining more palpability than the reality of the subject. The subjects making themselves into the object of the performance.

In the last few months we have seen Selfies of tragedy and disaster. In January 2013, Ferdinand Puente’s crashed his plane into the ocean and took a Selfie whilst waiting for rescue. Note in the image the plane in the top right sinking into the ocean. Also note Puentes’ expression.

disaster selfieDisaster selfie

A journalist for Jezebel ponders, “One the one hand, one could argue that in the midst of a tragedy (or potential tragedy), turning the camera on oneself is blithely narcissistic and inherently myopic; instead of documenting the actual situation, it documents one’s face in front of the actual situation (or the aftermath)” (Stewart, 2014). Can we escape the hurricane-generated whirlpool of technology as McLuhan suggests in Understanding Media, or are we doomed to stay trapped in our self-created extensions of man? At this dark base of the Selfie we find individual narratives of lost souls such as Danny Bowman, a young man suffering body dysmorphic disorder who became suicidal after being unable to perform the ‘perfect selfie’ (Robinson, 2014).

Another interesting project is Selfiecity, a project created by academics and social theorists to provide raw data to the community for discussion. They have compared 3,200 Selfies (selected from 656,000 Instagram images) from five cities and contrast such things as smiling, head tilt, age, gender and mood (DigitalThoughtFacility, 2014). This is an excellent resource for academics to draw data from, remembering that the data is somewhat self-selective. The fact that Selfie platform Snapchat turned down a FaceBook buy out of $3 billion in November 2013, with Facebook then spending $16 billion on a competitor platform WhatsApp (Durden, 2014) verifies the economic reality of this addiction of performativity by Selfie.

Clearly the Selfie is now a far more complex method of communication with performativity implications beyond the blurry, bathroom ‘self-portraits’ of yesteryear. It has out grown the bounds of gender performativity (although this remains an important subset of study) and has become a lens into the performativity of the human race. In 2014 the very act of creating and performing a “Selfie” carries with it an agency greater than the constituent elements. It is an attempt to join in on the global game of Selfie, to lift one’s voice above the ubiquitous roar of humanity’s substance, transubstantiated into pixels of light. In a world of information overload when even 144 Twitter characters has become too onerous to digest, the Selfie is capable of screaming a trove of information almost instantaneously.

nasa selfieNasa selfie

On the Christmas Eve of 2013 Mike Hopkins brought us a truly unique visual self-narrative attempting to include all of us in it. His Selfie,[1] taken outside the international space station and uploaded to twitter from far above the Earth gives us fodder for a completely new dialogue on the global Selfie

no makeup selfieNo make-up selfie

The Selfie proved that it could go far beyond the narrow confines of individual and narcissistic parameters when the #NoMakeupSelfie Campaign was launched to raise money for breast cancer research. Prince Harry’s girlfriend, Cressida Bonas, jumped onto this cause which raised $3 million in two days. A powerful performance from women around the globe.

ellen selfieEllen selfie

The famous Ellen DeGeneres #BestSelfieEver, made at the Oscars, was re-tweeted two million times in one hour, crashing Twitter in the process. Was the impetus simply to outstrip Meryl Streep or was it a plug for Samsung (note the Samsung device in the center of the image)? Samsung denies it was behind this stunt… but it does show an immensely powerful new marketing platform

dalai lama selfieDalai Lama selfie

The Dalai Lama visually iterates the need for compassion in this Selfie with polio survivor, Ramesh Ferris. Ramesh has been hand cycling across Canada to raise awareness. In this image note the relationship between subjects.

kate selfieKate Middleton selfie

Kate Middleton photo bombs in New Zealand. Photo bombing carries its own agency of performativity.

global village selfieGlobal selfie

NASA brought us the uplifting #GlobalSelfie Campaign for Earth Day, 22nd April 2014; a 3.2 gigapixel compilation of 36,422 Selfies of people from over 100 countries, making a Selfie Global Village.



Wood, J. T. (2004). Communication theories in action: an introduction (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Butler, J. (1999). Gender trouble feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge. (Original work published )

Losh, E., Beyond Biometrics: Feminist Media Theory Looks at Selfiecity. University of California, San Diego

McLuhan, M. (2013). Understanding Media: The extensions of man. New York, NY McGraw-Hill.

Robinson, Wills. Daily Mail. 24th March 2014.

Simmons, R., 20th November 2013

Feifer, J., The Guardian, 11th December 2013

Ryan, E. G., Jezebel, 21st November 2013

Internet Live Stats, retrieved 29th June 2014

Stewart, D., Jezebel, 11th April 2014

Oxford Dictionaries, 19th November 2013.

Andreasson, K., The Guardian, 7th March 2014.


Durden, T., ZeroHedge, 19th February, 2014



Image 1

Harriet Alexander, The Telegraph, 31st August 2013

Image 2

Andy Soltis, the New York Post, 10th December 2013

Image 3

Dodai Stewart, Jezebel, 11th April 2014

Image 4

NASA 24th December 2013

Image 5

William Turvill, Daily Mail, 29th March 2013

Marlene Leun, CTV News, 22nd March 2014

Image 6

Chris Chavez, Phandroid, 3rd March 2014

Image 7

Nisha Kotecha, The Good News, retrieved 29th June 2014

Image 8

Olivia Waxman, Time, 18th April 2014

Image 9

NASA, 22nd May 2014