Well, this is pretty amusing. Writing for The Atlantic, James Carmichael explored our precarious relationship with self-knowledge via the awkwardness of Google Now. I’m almost surprised he didn’t quote Eliot’s line about humankind not being able to bear much reality (or law). I mean, some of us can’t even handle looking at our most-played in iTunes, I’d hate to think what kind of revelations a ‘smart’ tracking device might hold (e.g. “it’s 10:45pm! – Time to secretly gorge on your kids’ snack food”, “Beep beep beep! It has now been eighty seconds since you last checked your web stats”, etc). What on earth is Google Now? He explains:

MurielsOverCuratedLifeGoogle Now, in case you don’t know, is the flagship software embedded in the Android smartphone operating system; its aim is to seamlessly turn your device into a personal assistant that provides “just the right information at just the right time.” It achieves this by using Google’s devouring awareness of your calendar, inbox, and movements. It tracks and predicts your travel, your appointments, your web interests: it tracks you

Now’s tracking runs headlong into our need to lie—a little! sometimes!—to ourselves. It’s a truism of this era that Facebook statusing and avatar design and Instagram filters have transformed how we self-present: the way we tell other people true and untrue stories about who we are. What’s transformative about Now is how it makes it harder to tell such stories to ourselves. This matters. Small, self-deceptive fictions are a big part of how we operate. Human beings are not totally awesome at distinguishing between the things we’d like to like and do and the things we actually like and do. So while the sexy endgame of “personal digital assistants” and predictive algorithms may lie in science fictive images of perfected machine intelligence and Scarlett Johansson-y singularities, there are some much more prosaic problems to grapple with right now, today: like the accountability and truthfulness that this technology demands of and imposes on us already.

We’ve been managing this tension for years. Anyone who’s ever cleared a browser history to maintain self-respect, or been appalled by a song that some predictive streaming music service suggests (then … liked it), has faced technology’s ability to throw us back at ourselves. And even with Now, most revelations feel small. I suppose I do procrastinate by searching movie showtimes, and Chrome on my computer talks to Now on my phone (that’s the point), so, yup, I get notifications about every film screening within three miles of my location pretty much at all times. I asked friends about similar experiences. Most are light: “Now also reminds me *all the time* that I buy my clothing at brooks brothers,” wrote a woman who really doesn’t see herself as a seersucker and polo type. “I’m not entirely comfy with that level of self-awareness. So tracking is disabled,” from an opt-outer. Another friend’s childish Netflix suggestions confirm that, whatever else he might be, he is now a dad. Some start funny, then go melancholy: a buddy whose web browser helpfully suggests a porn site as his likely destination, no matter how many times he Xs out the choice, as if it has “a never-ending supply of my own shame to replenish itself with.”…

The definition of self-deception that I liked best was offered by Chance et al, the researchers with the answer key: “Positive belief about the self that persists despite specific evidence to the contrary.” I can see how this could be dangerous. It also sounds pretty nice. After a few months, I got fed up with my phone telling me what I did, and therefore who I was.

Cue Mary Karr’s fantastic line about God being in the truth. Or The Onion. Or–(buzz buzz buzz: daily self-promotion reminder!)–this:

Liberate 2013 – David Zahl from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.