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I got a camera to spy on my cat – and it made me question everything about myself | Life and style

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This summer I bought two in-home security cameras. I told people I got them because my cat was sick, and I required on-demand proof he was still alive. But the truth is, I just wanted to spy on him. There’s something about a cat sitting by itself on a couch, staring into the middle distance in an empty room, that is inherently funny. What are they thinking? When they slink off camera, where are they going?

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The problem with getting a camera for your pets is that you also inadvertently get a camera for yourself. Years ago, when my ex and I got one for our cat, he once caught me eating Pringles on the couch and sent me a text: “Once you pop.” The camera, in those moments, was a comical imposition, fulfilling its duty of surveillance in precisely the ways we didn’t want.

Eventually, though, my ex and I gave into our role as subjects. If we wanted to remember when we’d gotten home the night before, we’d check the camera and watch ourselves stumble in. One time I came upon footage of us getting in a fight. We sat stiffly on opposite ends of the couch. I remember thinking I looked different in the video than I imagined I did when it was happening. Did that matter? I lost the camera in the breakup, but kept the cat.

Today, my cameras aren’t set up to observe my boyfriend and I that way. One is pointed at Bug’s food bowl and another at our bedroom door, but they do catch us from time to time. In the beginning, I would go into the app and poke through random moments the cameras had captured. It was funny to see Bug going about his life; funnier, for some reason, because he thought he was alone. And whenever I’d catch myself on the edge of the frame – running to the bedroom for a pair of socks, opening the blinds – the way I moved was unfamiliar to me. It felt almost like looking at a stranger. I’d watch studiously, as if by inhabiting an outsider’s perspective, I might unearth some grain of truth about myself.

Technology and social media are full of such promises – not just that we might gain a 360-degree understanding of our pets, but of ourselves. We document accordingly, obsessively. And implicit in this compulsion is the suspicion that our lives are best understood at a distance, the way someone else might experience us, rather than the way we experience ourselves. This renders our online existence into a kind of diorama – we are not just people-watchers, but people-watched.

There is the trope, for instance, of reviewing your own Instagram story after you post it “to see how you come off”, or taking a video of yourself wearing an outfit to “see how it looks”. The comedian John Early has a joke about how he knows he’s truly bored when he starts looking at his social media accounts “through the eyes” of various people in his life. In 2017, I wrote that I don’t know what I look like, but I think I meant that I don’t know what I look like to other people. Such a paranoia presumes that what other people think about me is both consistent and matters a lot.

To witness and be witnessed, to be a “thinking, feeling, wakeful atom of life amid the constellation of other atoms”, as the writer Maria Popova once put it, is crucial to our sense of identity. It implies a level of interdependence: you do not exist in a vacuum, but in relation to other people. But our attempts to digitize that experience – of community, of humanity – don’t quite capture what it feels like to be alive or belong. Instead, we get spectacle; life as performance of life, in which we seek a sense of self through being cast in the right role.

There is a growing genre of TikTok that crystallizes this preoccupation. In one video, a beautiful girl sits on a couch as the white overlaid text reads: “New trend – this is supposed to show you how you flirt.” A Khalid song is playing. She looks off-camera as if someone were there and mouths the lyrics suggestively: “You say we’re just friends but I swear when nobody’s around …” The corners of her mouth turn up, her cheeks blush. The expression is sweet and self-conscious, like she’s holding back – not from us, the spectators, but from the imagined person to whom she’s confessing feelings. She holds the expression just long enough to observe it in the self-facing camera when she turns back towards us, and then she breaks character and grins, pleased to learn that she’s beautiful when she flirts.

There are countless similar trends on the app. One of the first I saw circulating last year was supposed to reveal what you looked like when someone called your name: people would pretend to look down or away and then, at a particular part of a song, look up suddenly. Another recent iteration uses the FreezeFrame filter to capture a “real” laugh. The laugh is performed on command – and thus fake – but the idea is that participants will be touched by how happy and pure they look, and briefly cured of their self-consciousness. Seemingly, it works every time.

The primary function of these trends is to help people document aspects of themselves that are impossible to capture with your average selfie. And similarly, they are full of tricks: when the imagined stranger calls your name, the music crescendos romantically; when the video freezes on your laugh, it immediately desaturates the candid photo, making you look old-timey or famous or dead. The unspoken goal is to love yourself the way you love the main character in a movie. That is, from a distance, in two dimensions. Under this purview the self becomes an object, like a celebrity posing on the red carpet, or a minimalist frying pan. The “reality” these TikTok users are attempting to capture is a Hollywood facsimile of it – hyperreality, as Jean Baudrillard might have called it.

There’s something distinctly postmodern about the fact that our compulsion to consume makes us want to consume ourselves. That as commodities, we feel more real. As a 32-year-old who wouldn’t dare post on TikTok, my version of this preoccupation looks different, but it’s there. And it’s a burdensome existence, seeing yourself that way – like living inside a science experiment, only you’re both subject and researcher, never truly free of observation. Maybe this is the logical end of mass media: a public so immersed in a consumable, aesthetic and narrative version of reality that it becomes hard for us to imagine our lives as meaningful outside that paradigm.

There was a time during lockdown last year when I was both exhausted by my boyfriend’s passive observation and starved for the passive observation of the public. Both represent a core tension of identity – to experience yourself both as complete on your own and as a counterpart to something bigger.

Technology and social media exploit this need. Many of us use it to document ourselves and our lives not out of self-love, but out of a genuine desire for self-understanding. It’s a flawed strategy, emphasizing the self as an object of interest instead of an endlessly subjective, ever-evolving, interdependent atom in a constellation of others. And maybe we find ourselves unsatisfied with these tools – scrolling and scrolling, looking and relooking – because they’re incapable of actually capturing that.

They say the unobserved life isn’t worth living, but what of the over-observed one?

This is an edited excerpt of a piece that originally appeared in Maybe Baby, a newsletter about hard-to-describe feelings. Looking for more great work? Here are some suggestions:

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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