Hello Shadow

Note: This post is for Laura, by request – hi Laura!

Note 2: This post is far more philosophical than I normally go, but I thought, what the heck, why not have fun with it?

“shadow” by mandaloo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Your online Shadow.

Everyone has one. Even if you take care to not use platforms like Facebook, it’s highly likely that you have a shadow profile following you around the internet.

Platforms like Facebook and Google do it best. They collect all the data you and your friends or colleagues give them when you use their free services (But Google maps is SO CONVENIENT!) and they combine that with collected data about the other sites you visit (even after you log out) or where you’re logging in from, or whether you’re on a mobile device or a computer. They combine all of this data, and start to make predictions about you, which are either confirmed or adjusted depending on your online habits, and the habits of those you are connected to. This is precisely why so many people think their phones are secretly listening to them – and then delivering ads based on something they said. Your phone is not listening to you. It’s more troubling than that. Your shadow profile has revealed your secrets (she’s not very discrete!).

You have an online Shadow, who follows you around the internet. Doing whatever it is that you would do, liking whatever it is that you like. She might even know before you do what products you’re interested in, or what you might need. She’s attentive, and she wants to please you. She wants you to be happy, engaged, and stay to play with her online. She’s made up of data trails, but she has concrete impacts on your real world offline habits, purchases, and conversations (dare I say, thoughts).

Who is your online Shadow to you? Donna Haraway might think of her as cyborg. Or maybe she’s more than cyborg, perhaps she’s a technocultural companion species. You and your online Shadow are constant companions, since if you’re like most people, your phone is constantly by your side. This means you are ever in relation with your Shadow. She is both you, and not you. She influences you, because she is rhizomatic to you. Part of you, and also something new. One becomes two.

What is your responsibility to Shadow? This is something you helped to create and bring into the world. Along with, of course, the platform marketers, engineers, and CEOs who made this creation possible. They are perhaps the Dr. Frankenstein who created your Shadow, but you provided all the parts. Does this mean you (we) must take some responsibility when Shadow acts in ways that undermine our democracy, our communities, our selves?

“He is My Shadow and I am His” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jung has a shadow too. The Jungian shadow archetype is the unconscious, as unknowable to the ego as our online Shadow is to us. It may be linked to our more “animal instinct”. Companion species, again. The Jungian shadow is irrational (emotional?) and prone to hungers of all sorts – much like our online Shadow, who is engineered to appeal to our instincts (buy, click, repeat!). Nobody can be aware of their shadow without putting in considerable effort, but by putting in the effort to understand our shadow, we can avoid being a slave to it.

So the way forward is through. Recognizing that our online Shadow is us and is with us and is in relation to us, and then deciding how we will move with Shadow so as not to become slave to her baser affinities. Remembering too, that Shadow is not only in relation with us, but also with larger forces (hello Mark Zuckerberg) beyond our control. Finally, deciding how much we want to nurture our relationship with Shadow as a companion, or whether we prefer to keep our cyborg interactions to specific times, places and spheres, particularly as technology creeps into new areas of life.

We can’t do all of this alone of course, but must instead develop assemblages of our own engineering. But perhaps a simple nod of recognition to Shadow the next time you go online is the first step towards something new. Hello, Shadow – where shall we go today?

Hello Shadow

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