Book Review: The Virtual Self

The Virtual Self – How our digital lives are alterting the world around us

Author:  Nora Young

Published by McClelland & Stewart

ISBN:  978-0-7710-7064-8

Page Count:  204

Reviewed by:  Faith Wood, Inspiring Minds Consulting Ltd.

We have become a society addicted to our digital technology.  With a desire to be constantly online and the simplicity of the tools being developed which allow us to do just that, are we losing ourselves and our individuality?  Are we sharing too much and if so, at what cost?

From smart phones to social networking and even those ‘I agree’ clicks that claim we actually read the disclaimer, are we revealing too much about our personal identity?   Are we sharing with the right people?  Oh sure, here in Canada we have laws about what personal data can be collected but what happens online – where we volunteer our information without questioning who sees it?

Author Nora Young does an exceptional job of bringing to our attention these questions and more!  From apps that help us track and analyze our own behaviours to  those customer reward cards which are collecting your buying preferences, to our desire to be ‘friends’ with thousands of people we have never met…how are we coping with this increased desire to digitally share?   Are we putting ourselves in needless jeopardy?

As individuals, we are sharing more data and tracking ourselves more than any other generation.  GPS devices track your every movment and on top of that, we share it with the masses through our online social networks.  No more need for government spies, just ‘friend’ someone and you can discover all the boring details about their lives from the comfort of your portable device.  Diaries and journalling used to be done in private.  Now…we call it blogging and share our inner thoughts with anyone who wants to read them.

In the 40s we embraced the personal development industry with their books and seminars designed to enhance our sense of identity.  Today – we can do all that online and for ourselves.  You can literally track the most minute of details about your day to day activities in your quest for self awareness.  If you need motivation to lose weight and work out, there is an app for that.  If you want to connect with avid hikers and cyclists about the best pathways and map systems, there is an pp for that.  If you want to figure out how to find more time in your day, there is an app for that.    Perhaps the new career choice for many will be stats and logic combined with graphic design to help us interpret the crazy maze of stats we are collecting onourselves and each other.

Technology is advancing so quickly, are we truly prepared for the glutton of data that is being shared openly and freely.  Are we putting ourselves at needless risk by not questioning how our personal data will be housed and who gets to maintain control over it.

While the data we create can be a powerful tool for personal development and promoting responsive communities, it comes with some real privacy threats.  The Virtual Self explores the debates and challenges being faced in this new digital reality.  If we don’t wrestle with the question of ownership and privacy protection laws now (says the author), it may be too late to protect ourselves in the future.