The Quantified Self

A blast from the past.

366 Degree

Have you heard the terms “Quantified Self” or “Self-tracking” before? I have to admit that I have heard them for the first time last week. A radio talk show host was kind of against the idea of self-tracking. She saw this leading to others knowing about her personal data like when and how often she has gone to the toilet that day and what she ate for breakfast, etc. I find her stance on this topic absurd. After all self-tracking does not necessarily mean, you have to publish your personal data to the world but you can if you want to. It is like just because there is the functionality to upload photographs on Facebook you do not have to upload photos of you dancing on a table with a bottle of vodka in your hand but you can if you want to. I guess it depends on how extroverted…

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Love conquers all

This started out as a flash fiction for the Flash Fiction Faction prompt by Quil Shiv. But it ended up being longer than anticipated. I present to you, a love short story instead. As usual I welcome all feedback to help me improve my writing.

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Alan stroked the silky strand of hair; bundled together in a pink ribbon. It was a beautiful black, as dark as a cloudy and [added after edit] starless night in the outback. As he looked out of the aeroplane he imagined running his fingers through masses of soft, black tresses. Only this time they were still attached to their owner – Inthira. From the photographs she had sent him and their countless video chats via Skype, he knew that she had long straight hair. A quick glance at his watch told him that he would be seeing his love for the first time in less than an hour. After months of communicating over the internet, he was impatient to hold her in his arms; to touch her, to smell her, to taste her. If it had been up to him, he would have visited her earlier. However his only financial resource was his pay, plus tips, as a waiter at The Steakhouse. Nowadays, people were extremely stingy with their tips, which is why it has taken him months to save money for this trip.

Eyes scanning the crowd gathered in the waiting area after he cleared immigration, Alan felt a lump forming in his stomach. What if she did not come? What if it was all a lie? Before he could think another destructive thought, he caught sight of her waving enthusiastically at him. He was overjoyed to see her. She looked the same as she did in the photographs. There was no mistaking it. He walked over to her. Standing in front of her, he was unsure what to do next. He knew he was in a conservative country but a handshake felt inadequate to express his joy and love. Inthira smiled at him and stood on her toes to give him a big hug. It felt good. He would have loved to kiss her but a hug was definitely better than a handshake.

“Is that backpack all the luggage you have?”

“Yes.”

“Then follow me. I will drive you to the hostel.”

The ride to the hostel was pleasant. They talked about her plans to show him her country. They spoke about the weather, about the food in Thailand. She smiled at him a lot but he couldn’t help feeling disappointed. He had felt closer to her in their hour-long phone calls compared to the present; within the confines of a car, where a slight stretch of his arm could result in physical contact. He wondered if his expectations for the first meeting had been too high. Remarks made by his friends echoed in his mind.

You are practically strangers!

She only wants you for your money. To them all white people are rich.

You’ll see that long distance relationships cannot succeed.

It is not a relationship, as long as you don’t do what normal couples do.

“We’re there! This is your home for the next 2 weeks. Are you tired? If yes, we can call it a night and I’ll meet you for breakfast tomorrow.”

Alan snapped out of his brooding.

“I’m not tired.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

Alan checked into a single bedroom with shared bathroom. He couldn’t afford anything better but he hadn’t wanted to stay in a dorm either; not when he was there to visit his girlfriend. Maybe it had been a bad idea to come here. Maybe his friends were right. So stupid of him to be such a hopeless romantic.

Inthira walked him to his room, entered it after him and closed the door behind her. She let out an audible sigh, which caused him to turn to her.

“Finally! No more prying eyes. Now for a proper ‘Hello’.”

With that she embraced him in a hug and planted her inviting lips on his. Alan required no further encouragement to return the greeting in kind.

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The following days passed by in a blur, as if he was caught in a sensory whirlwind. One moment he was in a temple, where hundreds of tiny golden bells hung from every accessible corner. Even in his dreams he could hear their chiming sounds as they swung in the wind. The sound was comparable to the clinking of champagne glasses; the sound set to repeat mode as long as there was enough wind to provide the necessary push.

The next moment he was walking through a market selling multi-coloured produce. The mere thought of the salty, sour taste of a preserve caused the saliva to collect in his mouth and cringe his eyes. He did not believe Inthira that a plum could taste like that and it was one experience he was sure never to repeat.

Today they were watching the farmers harvest the rice fields. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the wonderful earthy smell of freshly cut grass. Inthira was standing next to him, holding his hand. He realised all of these experiences did not cause his senses to short circuit. But Inthira did. Being with Inthira in reality was better than in his dreams. He loved watching her mimic while she talked; the soft tones caressing him softly. He loved the jasmine smell of her hair and the way it slipped through his fingers. He loved the strawberry taste of her lips; enticing him to bite them. He loved her mind as much as he did her body. Inthira was clever, witty and humourous. She was kind and cared for others; especially those less fortunate. She had gotten under his skin and he wanted her to stay there. They needed to find a way to overcome the physical distance separating them and they needed to do it soon. He could not imagine a life deprived of these senses.

Alan felt Inthira stiffen slightly before withdrawing her hand from his. He opened his eyes and saw the worried look on her face. He turned around to identify the cause for her sudden change of behaviour. A man was approaching them with angry strides.

“So this is where your lecture is? I don’t believe you had the nerve to lie to me and meet him after I told you not to!” He looked at Alan wagging a finger at him.

“Stay away from my daughter. She is not a whore for you to play around with. If you see her again, I’d…”

Unfortunately Alan was not one for keeping a cool head.

“Did you just threaten me?”

“Yes, what are you going to do? Beat me up? You have a great taste in men, Inthira. I knew he was not good for you.”

Alan did not like where this conversation was heading. He looked at Inthira’s teary face and realised this was not the time for pride.

“I am sorry sir. I didn’t mean to be rude. I love your daughter a lot and I would never do anything to hurt her. My intentions are honest, I promise.”

“Inthira, you drive back home now.”

“But Pa, I love him!

By then a crowd of farmers had formed around them, curious to find out what was going on. Inthira’s dad cleared his throat.

“This is not the place to talk about family matters. Everyone is watching. Take him to our place. We will talk there. If you both are serious, then it is time he is introduced to the family.”

Alan swallowed in relieve. He would move mountains, just to be with Inthira. Meeting the family should be a much easier endeavour.

The Hate Game

Amanda closed the cubicle door. She lowered the lid and sat down. Her pulse should have been racing, given but she felt extremely calm. She took a box of Panadol out of her school rucksack. She had bought one at the pharmacy last week to add to the package she had found at home. She popped one pill out of the blister package. Her fingertip traced the groove in the middle of the pill. Would breaking them in the middle quicken the effect? She held each end between a thumb and index finger and pressed. It was harder to split the pill in the middle than she had expected. She decided to leave the remaining pills whole. She couldn’t risk dropping any of the pills; she needed every single one.

Her heart skipped a beat at the shrill ring of the school bell. She prayed that no one would enter the toilet. She had chosen the one on the third floor because most of the rooms were only used for Extra-Curricular Activities. She had one more free period before her next lesson started. How fitting that it would a Math class; since she hated it and hopefully wouldn’t have to live through it. It would have been nice, if it were music instead because singing made her happy. Amanda wiped the tears on her right sleeve.

There was no other way out.

She needed to put an end to the pain. She threw the ham and cheese sandwich, her mom had made for her lunch, in the bin in the cubicle; the lunch menu has changed. She removed the remaining pills from the blister packages and put them in her lunch box. She concentrated on the monotonous action and managed not to think about the chain of events that had brought her there. She had 47 pills in all. She hoped it was enough for her plan to be successful. She stuffed the empty packages in her rucksack. She stood up, righted her uniform, swung her rucksack over her right shoulder and left the cubicle.

Amanda knew the perfect spot, where she could consume her special lunch in peace. There was a bench next to the canteen, overlooking the school garden. There was a rose bush right next to the bench. She loved sitting there because the roses smelled lovely. When she closed her eyes, she imagined being in a candy shop, surrounded by the sticky sweet smell of roses. She bought a can of Coke from the vending machine. She had read on the internet that carbonated drinks increased the effect of paracetemol. Even if it did not, it was much tastier than plain water.

She placed the first pill onto her tongue. She took a sip from her can and swallowed the mixture. The next 5 followed swiftly in the same manner. However she couldn’t hold back the tears for long. She wiped her tears with a tissue paper, folded it and blew her nose. She hoped no one noticed her crying, especially not a teacher. She was doing the right thing. She couldn’t live another day reading the lies her classmates spread about her on Facebook. The names they had for her went through her mind, virtually burning, hitting, spitting on and shaming her before hundreds of spectators. Some were strangers but most she knew personally. They encouraged her demons with their applauding and cheering! Why her? Some of her tormentors used to be her friends. She has looked for a reason many times before as to why they had turned on her. But she always came up blank. There was no sense to the madness that had overcome them.

Amanda had difficulties swallowing the remaining pills. Her throat felt constricted and she was sure that the slightest pressure could result in her puking into the rose bush. But she would see this through. She wanted her death to haunt her tormentors with guilt for the rest of their lives. She practically shoved the remaining pills one by one down her throat and washed each down with Coke.

The bell rang again. Amanda stuck the empty lunchbox in her rucksack and threw away the can. She was starting to feel ill, comparable to the time she had the flu. Her stomach was cramping as she slowly made her way to class.

“Amanda, you’re late!”

“Sorry! I don’t feel well.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You do look pretty pale. Cynthia, please escort Amanda to the sick bay.”

“Not Cynthia. I can go myself.”

“You look as if you would faint any moment. Now get to the sickbay quickly.”

Amanda and Cynthia walked to the sickbay in silence. Amanda wanted to tell her a lot of hurtful things but she couldn’t get a single one out. Instead as they stood in front of the sickbay she said, “Hope my death makes you feel happy.” The shock in Cynthia’s eyes was enough to make Amanda feel temporarily happy. At least Cynthia will suffer after her death.

“Here’s a pail my dear, in case you need to be sick again. Your mom is on her way here. She will bring you to the doctor. You have a slight fever. It is probably only a stomach-flu. Have had a couple of kids come down with it last week. You will be fine in a few days time.”

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“Amanda! You have visitors.”

“Mom! Who?… Oh! What do you all want here?”

Cynthia and five other classmates entered her bedroom. Cynthia held a bouquet of roses up and spoke.

“We want to apologise for being mean to you. We did not seriously mean the things we said. It was only fun. We have deleted all the posts about you. We hope you can forgive us.”

Project X – Party & Peer Pressure = Bad Decisions

Yesterday I came across a news article on the death of a boy in Houston. The boy was shot multiple times and died as a result of the injuries sustained. He was one of many hundred partygoers, who had gathered in a mansion to celebrate spring break in “Project X” style. What does celebrating “Project X” style mean? It means that first you are no longer a teenager and second it is the title of a Hollywood movie released this year.

Naturally I went to IMDB to watch trailers of the movie and read up on what it was about. It actually sounds like just another teen movie, where a kid throws a birthday party at his house when his parents are out for the evening. He and his 2 friends plan on becoming popular at school because of the party. As expected lots of people turn up and the party gets out of control; things go up in flames, a person of very small stature climbs out of the oven and starts punching them in the sensitive area between their legs. In one scene, a neighbour even gets tasered when he threatens to call the cops because of the noise. This plot is not something new. I am assuming the only difference to the movies before lies in the magnitude of destruction. Lots of things are destroyed for one night of carefree fun.

Is the movie to be blamed for these teenagers’ destructive actions? Ever since it has become possible to “invite” strangers to a party via Twitter or Facebook, such parties have taken place all over the world. The teenagers simply have a cool name for their parties now. You have to admit that “Project X” sounds catchy. Teenagers have always wanted to party through the night. Flirting with the other sex probably causes the adrenalin level in the body to sky rocket. If alcohol is available, I shudder at the damage teenagers under its influence could cause. Yes, the movie is to be blamed for giving an impressionable group of teenagers ideas for such parties. No, the movie is not to be blamed because it can also be seen as portraying the vulnerable nature of teenagers and their need to belong to the “cool” group. These teenagers would have partied just as wildly and carried weapons around, even if the movie was never made.

I read an interesting article which explores the connection between age and peer influence. This article talks about a test carried out on three age groups; teenagers, young adults and adults. The aim was to discover how peer pressure influences one’s willingness to take risks. The test takers played a race on a computer. The aim was to finish the race with the quickest time possible. They had the option to stop at yellow lights, which would cause a slight delay. However the probability of maintaining control of the vehicle is high. Alternatively they could pass yellow lights without stopping. As a result, they risk driving too fast and crashing the vehicle, which would result in a longer delay. They went through this test twice. During the second run, they were told that their (same-sex) friends were watching the test from the room next door.

The teenagers were the only ones, who altered their behaviours. Physically the part of the brain that has to do with rewards became active, when they thought their friends were watching them. It is seen as the reason for their reckless behaviour in the second round. Interestingly peer pressure doesn’t only occur, when friends are bodily present. Simply the thought of friends being aware of what one does is enough to influence a teenager’s action. The scientists believe that this could provide the reason why a child, who is mature in the presence of his parents, could still act irresponsibly when with his friends.

This reminds me of some incidents in Germany, where kids beat up complete strangers in the public. They acted in groups and not all regretted what they had done. This apparent callousness frightens me. Is it futile to hope that teenagers behave sensibly even in the company of their friends? But there are still some well-behaved teenagers in this world, right? What causes them to behave well? Well-behaved friends? Something else? Do you have teenage kids? What is your experience?

Related Articles

1.http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/03/teenagers-friends-and-bad-decisions/

2. http://abcnews.go.com/US/project-movie-inspires-teen-parties/story?id=15922034#.T2NbY_XLsw9

After my death, please post this on Facebook

I am dead.:-)

Have you ever thought about what would happen to your Facebook page after you die? While researching about algorithms used by Facebook, I came across an app “If I Die”. This app enables the user to upload a post or video that will be published post mortem. The death has to be confirmed by 3 trustee friends named by the user when he uploads this message. Continue reading

Is Facebook shaping your online friendships?

I have opened Pandora’s Box by thinking about how algorithms shape our world. I am now in the matrix. Everywhere I look, I see algorithms. Algorithms decide what I get to see in the digital world. Given that I spend most of my time online, algorithms’ impact on my life is immense. I cannot stop thinking about how algorithms are manipulating my views this very minute. Now I know what Neo must have felt when he was first confronted with the matrix. Overwhelmed is an understatement! 🙂 Continue reading