Data Flashing: Personal Exposure in a Digital World

wearable computing pic

Ah, privacy.  Remember that?  It’s now a distant dream from the pre-Facebook data-mining, pre-NSA-leak era when some things (like breakups) were just “private.” Maybe the myth of privacy has always been just that: an illusion.  But regardless, we do seem to be at a sort of personal exposure crossroads.

Less than a decade ago, the very concept of exposure was most closely associated with stories of public displays of physical “indecency” – from controversial Super Bowl antics to “provocative” travel attire.   And now, as we settle into summer, the season of baring it all, it’s another type of exposure that’s gaining focus, reminding us that exposure is more than skin deep.

The rise of “wearable computing” is at the forefront of this controversy. With the ability to covertly capture and record everything happening around them, gadgets like Google Glass (and its competitors) and Memoto (a newly crowdfunded “lifelogging camera”) bring up issues of privacy, memory, and non-consensual surveillance.

When we are literally flashed – think ye olde trenchcoat-style flashing – it’s labeled as indecent exposure, which means to deliberately expose one’s body in public.  It’s deemed illegal because it threatens cultural mores and (the argument goes) disrupts public order.  So what happens when we expose our personal data and digital bodies? Does this new version of nakedness not threaten to disrupt public order as much or more than the fleeting glimpse of genitals or breasts?

In an age when our data is our currency, are we horrified by the “sight” of our lives flashed before others or made uncomfortable by seeing TMI about your neighbor? Your latest social media status update indicates that the answer is no (parents, I’m looking at you, too).  We are not only not horrified by this perma-public visibility, but a Harvard study indicates that oversharing is actually as satisfying as sex.  Meaning, it’s likely here to stay.

Here are some tips to help you get your exposure jollies (or try to maintain decorum):

wearable tech 1 r3Feel like you still don’t have enough outlets to offer a real time broadcast of your life and surroundings? Check out Vine or Instagram’s new video feature for all your lifelogging needs.  Confused about the difference? Find clarity here.



wearable tech 2 r1Digital exposure is all about the feedback loop – a cycle perpetuated by the newly crowdfunded Embrace+, a bracelet that connects with your smartphone and lights up when you have new notifications, per your personalized settings.  The creators believe this will even help ease our anxieties, as “we become restless and lack concentration on almost anything while we keep checking our phones.” Plus, every time your bracelet lights up, it signals to the people you’re with just how popular you are!

wearable tech 3 r2Still resisting the pressure to bare it all? Fuel your fire with Charles Sykes’ book, The End of Privacy (presciently penned in the prehistoric era of 1999), which may then send you spiraling toward radical unplugging.