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Photo: Dominique Chartrand

DELUGED BY DATA  begins with a familiar refrain: our ever-expanding digital age has swamped us under incoming emails, tweets, texts, alerts, photos, Facebook posts - and now, new bio-feedback data that peeks deep inside our bodies.

Filmmaker Josh Freed tries on some data devices.

But are these the tools for a happy new cyber era – or “weapons of mass distraction”.

This eye-opening and entertaining new documentary by Montreal filmmaker Josh Freed reveals there are equal numbers of data lovers and data haters - with opposing visions.

Says Freed, “A growing army of “data-addicts” loves all this data and believes it will revolutionize our lives and bring us “happiness through numbers” - salvation through information. But many former data addicts are burned out and bummed out. They think we’re suffering from data overload and “Infobesity “--- and it’s time to go on a “data diet.”

Listen to an interview with filmmaker Josh Freed.

The film casts a humorous but sympathetic eye on a growing movement of so-called “datasexuals”, seduced and obsessed by the allure of raw data. Their new data-collecting devices are both fascinating and mind-boggling.  But Freed also talks to former data freaks who’ve learned to take regular digital Sabbaths - and even go to special retreats for a digital detox.

DELUGED BY DATA visits a gathering of devotees of the new movement known as QS – The Quantified Self – who believe in “self-knowledge through numbers.” They measure everything from their computer keystrokes to exactly how many minutes they spend with each person every day. They use biofeedback apps to quantify their heart rate, brain waves, calorie intake, sleep rhythms, menstrual cycles, stress levels, and “galvanic skin response” – then graph it against their moods – searching for a lifestyle “formula for happiness.”

At the monthly “meet-ups” of their QS clubs, found in every major North American city, they swap information about the latest miraculous data devices. They believe that, like the check-ups we do on our cars, we should perform regular data checks of our bodies and minds – to help us build a better, and happier, us.

From biometric sportswear to a fork that helps you loose weight there are hundreds of tools to track your data. Here's a selection.

The film also introduces us to self-confessed tech addicts who are trying to break the habit. They flee to Camp Grounded, a California retreat where all devices are confiscated on arrival, and adult campers are offered a “digital detox”, so recovering addicts can re-connect with themselves by disconnecting from their devices.

DELUGED BY DATA features an articulate array of young, tech-savvy people, each shedding light on facets of the essential question: “How far will the data revolution go before it transforms us?”

  • Lolly Luck, a self-confessed Selfie AND “Twitter junkie” in Toronto, confesses she was spending more time on her virtual life, with online strangers, than on her real life and her real friends.
  • Data addict Quantified Bob Troia looks like the bionic man, sporting strange devices that measure everything from his hourly blood pressure to his “trans-cranial brain wave activity”. He even has an app that monitors his posture and beeps him every time he should straighten up!
  • University of Toronto professor and inventor Steve Mann wears bizarre online Spaceglasses all the time - an invention that could take us one step closer to becoming human cyborgs.
  • Stephane Marceau runs Montreal bio-clothing manufacturer OM Signal. He demonstrates their revolutionary “smart shirt” that collects data like heart activity, breathing rate, and lung volume 24/7 as we wear it.
  • Daniel Sieberg, senior manager at Google, became so immersed in his online world that he opened up a vast “digital divide” between his wife and himself. To save his relationship, he followed, then wrote, a best-selling book on The Digital Diet.
  • Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation, reveals that every website we look at is watching us. too, monitoring and selling our personal  information whenever we click on Search.
  • CBC Spark radio host Nora Young loves data but says that “for all the marvels of our new data-tracking world we can’t let information replace human instinct”.
  • Stephen Hall represents 20 top New York restaurants that have banned taking photos of food in their restaurants.


DELUGED BY DATA examines both sides of the question: will these innovative new devices finally crack the “formula for happiness”, or will they literally drive us to distraction? Perhaps Daniel Sieberg offers the best way forward when he concludes, “Love your technology, just not unconditionally.” 

DELUGED BY DATA is written and directed by Josh Freed and produced by Janet Torge and Josh Freed in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

 

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