Sunday, March 30, 2008

Outsourcing my digital life

These last days I have experimented with the idea of making myself more or less independent of my own digital artifacts. I have increased my use of Google, and other online possibilities. This also means that I am increasing the opportunity to use my iPhone to do more of the digital aspects of my life. This "experimentation" is related to a research project I am currently conducting with a colleague and four PhD students, called "Ecologies of Interactive Artifacts". This is a highly interesting project and it is exciting to see how the research closely relates to my everyday life. In my "outsourcing" approach, there is of course a danger in the increasing dependency -- what if Google, Box, and others disappear? Maybe I just have to let go, to trust the "net" as an everlasting entity, as an environment to trust, that will take care of me (sounds familiar...). I don't know, we'll see....


Mahim said...

Outsourcing leads to a better definition of what you really use your calenders for. I stopped using the Swedish "filofax" when I received my first Palm Pilot (III) and I have never looked back. I'm no using my m600i with my Google calendar. For sure I have lost information in battery loss, accidents (lost my palm V in MIT huset at UMU from the 4th floor) but I've learned, just as all companies I've been working with has learned (organizational learning), that the more I outsource and trust in the 'net' and artifacts the better defined my use of them becomes. My first artifact was supposed to to it all, now I know what I have where.

great post
/Henrik - former student from Umu

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Henrik

Thanks for the comments!!

Tim said...

Keep in mind that to some extent we've always had to put trust in the hands of others -- trusting that Google will be around to store our data really isn't all that different from trusting that we'll have the ability to read the data that we've backed up on floppy or CD.

The only real change is that rather than making sure to transfer data that matters to new formats as they arrive and start to become dominant, we'll need to do the same for online services.

Jan Karlsbjerg said...

I agree with Tim though I'll take it one step further: We're not just trusting (making ourselves dependent on) an entire infrastructure of hardware and software. Not only do we have to trust the storage media, we also have to trust in the availability of software or services to interpret and present the data files.

Will you have software that can read the data twenty years down the road, etc. You can argue that open standards, free software, etc. is a way around the problem, but that has its limitations too. I think it's more likely that you'll be able to find software/services that can display MS Word documents in 30 years than it is that you will have a Unix geek on hand to maintain a working installation of TeX with various packages etc. so you that can compile your text files into a readable document.

It's less likely that Google will suffer a catastrophic loss of your files than it is for (all copies of) your thesis files to get lost in a move, disappear along with a stolen computer or crashed harddrive.

What's more risky with the online/service strategy is that the service can change its terms and you're effectively powerless to stop it. With the format choice (MS Word, TeX, etc.) at least you're making an informed decision and you're responsible for maintaining the functionality. With online services you may lose out. When you buy a song on iTunes, for example, it comes with some use rights (DRM) that make it worth the price for you (you can burn it to CD x times, etc.). But when Apple changes its licensing rules down the line, the changes also apply to your old purchases, making them worth less now than they were when you decided to buy them.

And of course they may just close down the service altogether (some commercial movie service from Google or Amazon did that recently and originally just gave users 1 month to get in all the viewings of the movies they had paid "lifetime licenses" for).

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Tim and Jan

Thanks for your comments. I think you both have valid insights. I still think this is an issue that will grow in importance and we will see a lot of discussions about this. There will soon be movements against the all-knowing powers of these global digital service providers :-)


Scott said...


The project sounds really interesting
I had just wondered if you had come across the book by Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O'Day on 'Information Ecologies', as I have found it be an intriguing concept and found it extremely useful.

It might possibly have some insight into"Ecologies of Interactive Artifacts" as I would be particularly interested to hear your thoughts.

A link to a book chapter

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