Welcome to Issue 68.1 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
Just a couple of tidbits from me this morning.
I’ve been enjoying The Nation’s issue on utopia; here’s All That’s Utopian Melts Into Asphalt, an ode to Utopia Parkway in Queens, NYC.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Over the past few years, we’ve started to think differently about how we relate to the internet and the devices we use every day. I know I’m more conscious of taking the time to click “object all” and “reject all” to cookies when I visit a website and I try to be more aware of which apps use my phone’s location, microphone, etc. when I’m using and not using them. There’s been this widespread revelation that we have these shadow selves, disparate aggregations of data living in server warehouses and lines of algorithm code that follow us around. In most cases I fall into the “this is bad” camp on data collection because information collected by search engines and social networks seems much more useful to ad sales companies than it is to me. My one exception is biometric data.
I’ve had this little Garmin watch since around fall 2019 - I don’t wear it all the time, but since I’ve been back into running more intensely it’s spent more time on my wrist than not. It’s a fairly bare-bones GPS watch, it can tell the time, record my running routes, and tell me generally what pace I’m going at, which is especially handy for workouts. It also has a pedometer and an optical heart rate sensor, a little green light that shines through the skin on my wrist to measure my heart rate periodically throughout the day.
Though it’s fairly simple compared to an Apple Watch or the other Garmin watches, the amount of data it tracks about me is still a little creepy. The watch tracks my live location while I’m exercising, including the starting and stopping point of my home, and it knows my heart rate throughout the day: when I’m resting and when I’m excited or anxious. When I wear it at night (which I have been doing recently) it can even detect when I’m asleep and how deep I’m sleeping based on my heart rate and movement. It’s totally creepy but instead of getting weirded out - I absolutely LOVE it! I love looking at graphs of my runs, how hard I was working or how fast I was going. I’ve been wearing it essentially 24/7 lately to see more comprehensive heart rate data. I even love the “Move IQ” feature where an algorithm uses the pedometer and heart rate monitor to tell that I’m out cycling, running, or walking - even if I don’t tell it I’m working out.
There are a few different reasons why I love this kind of data collection. I generally just really like looking at graphs and data visualizations, seeing patterns in raw data - this also manifests in my morbid panic-fascination with checking daily covid cases (Ireland is beginning to spike again btw). I also get a nice rush from the little affirmations - like GarminConnect telling me I have a “superior” VO2 max for my age (wearables generally can’t calculate this accurately but they tell you anyway) or Apple Health telling me I’ve been using my headphones at hearing-safe levels. I even entertain these whacky fantasies of better-living-through-technology: that I’ll be able to tell I’m getting sick before I get symptoms because I’ll notice a spike in my resting heart rate, or that having my blood type on my phone’s “Medical ID” could help me survive a traumatic injury. But I think in general it’s the desire to know and understand my body that keeps me tied to all these apps and wearables.
But when I take some distance, it’s easy to realize that it’s not my real body I’m getting to know. It’s this shadow self, this aggregation of data, the lines and pulses I leave behind. Sure my shadow self and my physical self line up sometimes but it’s wrong to conflate them. There’s a certain point where I become so used to looking at my watch to see how I’m feeling that I forget that my body is usually telling me already. I think this is demonstrated well through hydration apps, the constellation of phone apps that ask you to water a plant or fill a chart throughout the day by logging each glass of water. Sure these tools can be helpful in building good habits but it’s usually just as easy to train your mind to notice when your body is telling you it's thirsty - and to swap coffee or soda for something more hydrating. I also just have beef with water apps because MY body doesn’t seem to retain a ton of water and if I try to drink “recommended” amounts I just end up on the toilet all day.
Sooo I’m going to keep wearing my watch for now - but I’m also going to try to take some time and stretch and check in with my heart and lungs and limbs in a more, let's say embodied way. Have a lovely week and in the meantime you can follow me (both digitally and physically because you’ll know where I am) on Strava.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
Britney Spears has been slowly reclaiming her time and her agency these last couple of weeks and I -- along with literally everyone else on this planet -- am so here for it!
In case you missed it, Brit Brit testified for the first time at her conservatorship hearing in late June. Her testimony not only confirmed what many have long suspected about the strict regiment she's been kept under for over a decade now, but also revealed the extent of control her father, Jamie Spears, as her conservator, and her team of handlers has over her life. The #FreeBritney movement has always had major traction among Britney's fans and supporters, but her heartbreakingly raw testimony triggered a new wave of support among the general public and greater scrutiny on how conservatorships are used and applied.
A lot of things have happened in the weeks since this hearing. Many of Britney's peers have come out in public support of her struggle for agency and several of her handlers, including her lawyer, has resigned from her team. Her younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears of Zoey 101 and shock teen pregnancy fame, tried to chime in with a half-hearted defense of her role in allowing her sister's abuse to fester for years -- only to be dragged by literally everyone on the Internet. She kept quiet after that but the North remembers and so does Britney Spears. Over the weekend, she fired some warning shots by uploading this post, complete with caption directly calling out Jamie Lynn, on her Instagram:
Here's a snippet of the performance referenced in Britney's caption, cut at exactly the part in which we see Britney stored this humiliation in her memory bank for a later day, time, and place in which she knew she would need it again:
It's Britney, bitch! And now that she's found her voice again, no one in the Spears family is safe. Jamie Lynn's probably going to steer clear of stepping into the picture again from now on and honestly I don't blame her. She's turned off the comments on her Instagram page and I suspect it's because she's been getting it from all fronts this weekend. Welp. That's what you get for being a snake I guess.