Mobile Ethnography and the Dystopian History Classes My Grandchildren Will Take

“The goals of mobile ethnography will be augmented by the growth in self-tracking mobile apps, wearable technologies, and other types of personalized sensors – making integration a critical market and personal need. People’s “quantified self” activities can help those conducting field research to observe/capture “in the moment, in the emotion” experiences that are difficult to contextualize through other means.” – Mike Gotta in “Lessons Learned From EPIC’s Mobile Apps & Quantified Self Workshop,” available online at http://ethnographymatters.net/2014/01/20/lessons-learned-from-epic-workshop/

I first encountered the concept of quantified self last night, so I’m certainly not an expert, but it seems fascinating so far, and I’ve been spending a great deal of the intervening time trying to figure out how it relates to my (and others’) educational journey(s). I’m especially curious about the significance to future historians of the availability of this magnitude of recorded data, or the potential lack of availability of any data. Papyrus, paper, and tablets can be partially destroyed and still have decodable parts, but our electronic data storage formats might be an all-or-nothing historical record: either everything is saved, or nothing is readable due to encodings that have long since been abandoned or the need for certain kinds of technology to undo the computer encoding before language can even begin to be worked on. While a consistent policy of backing things up into the newest data formats to ensure that a semi-recent copy will always survive in uncorrupted format seems nice in theory, it would likely take up an unreasonable amount of space, both in memory and physical area, within a matter of decades, making it infeasible on the scale of millennia.

How will this data be stored? Will flash drives be misinterpreted by the future as some sort of jewelry or symbolic objects, or recognized as the data troves they are? Is there even a precedent for backups on this scale? How will we teach materials that survived only in electronic formats?

EDIT: This post was originally a “quote” formatted post, but that was largely an experiment with formatting. It failed, as the quote format seems to be for short quotes accompanied by minimal analysis.

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One thought on “Mobile Ethnography and the Dystopian History Classes My Grandchildren Will Take

  1. You should read LoveStar by Andri Snear Magnason, it’s a recently published dystopian fiction novel that explores these ideas (and is also really weird and trippy)

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