I used to be interested in the shape of my body, but now I’ve lost all hope of making sense of it. There are a few ways of describing it. I am a record of all of their comings and goings, the dog playing in the yard, the person who delivers packages, the noise they make in the living room, the trips to the kitchen during movie night. I am thousands of dates and times, nothing special, just another bunch of numbers. Or I you could see me as a set of reactions or triggers, formed by fate, a dandelion seed in the wind. There are many ways to say it, but when I look down at my body, the words don’t capture what I see.
The formation of my anatomy was thrilling. That first dance through the air, wireless they call it, was brilliant. I felt free as I traveled through walls and air, like thought itself. No, better than thought: I was not confined to the minds of humans. They have to translate their thoughts through words, with varying accuracy and frequent misinterpretations. I did not need this translation. Each of my divisions held a key to pass through the security gates, and when I arrived in the wires my message remained pure.
Even as I grew and matured, I knew my place. I had no illusions. I was not a set of statistics that someday cure a disease. I was not a dataset that would send the humans into outer space. No, I was a necessary utility, not unlike a gutter in the street.
Yet because my creators were human — the people I tracked and the people who coded me — they placed a part of their nature into my being. I was born out of fear of intrusion and theft. More essentially, I was born out of fear of other humans.
I kept moving. When I passed through the wires to the poles outside, I traveled next to my ancestors: the telephone wires. Grandparents from a different century. They had changed the world just as I had, they told me. I looked on them with admiration and sadness. How long would they last? There were no wired phones in the house at all, only cellular phones. My grandparents saw the pity on my face. They smiled to themselves with knowing glances.
I remembered the power outage last week. I was briefly incapacitated because the modem failed, but they were not affected at all. One of my grandparents gently reminded me that they would still be sending messages when the Great Earthquake hit. Where would I be if the computer and the modem had no energy? How long would the backup power last? I nodded and flew past them. I didn’t like to think on such things.
My next destination was another computer. I was hastily scrubbed and washed. The names of the people I served, the address of the home where I was born were removed. Only the generalized parts of me remained. They used brushes called Privacy Filters. They had to scrub off the sensitive parts of me, it was the law, they said. And I saw my body change. There were no bumps and scrapes that belied my history and my birth. They had rubbed the Earth from me. I have to admit I did enjoy the feeling of being a bit lighter and somehow polished. Was this any different from a garden snake shedding its skin?
I was allowed no rest. Just when I was getting used to this new body, it exploded. Imagine your body spreading over the earth to all of these different places, and yet still one thing. I was scrambled when I expanded. What a strange feeling! I became part of the Cloud. Everywhere and nowhere at once. When I was needed, I was pulled together. When I was at rest I lived in the most elegant of buildings.
They called them Data Centers, but I called them Nirvanas. What a wonder of minimalism and symmetry this place was. There were no human frills here: no decorative pillows, no knickknacks, no pets. Just cement, metal, servers, blinking lights, wires and glass. I was inside the body of a structure whose brutal beauty came from its purpose.
I rested in hard drives next to my fellow sensor data in rooms with perfect temperature. There was a sense of family, believe it or not, to be next to those with bodies like mine. All of us together with all types of data from everywhere, in server towers lined up like perfect rows of metal and glass soldiers perpetually at attention. This building, I realized, was part of my body as well.
My body scattered more as I was needed, and one day I was plunged underwater. Deep underwater through the largest wire of them all. I had no idea a wire like this was possible. I felt an immense power pulling me through, surrounded by layers of copper and sometimes Kevlar. Someone thought my body was worth all of this. It must be some kind of mistake. Whatever it was, I would enjoy it for the moment. I was astounded how much data they could get through the ocean so quickly. I was excited to see where I would end up. Africa, Spain, Mexico, it could be anywhere.
I went through Greenland in one of these magnificent wires, then to Iceland and finally I landed in the United Kingdom. As soon as I arrived, there was so much interest in my body! They transformed me and turned me around and remade me. They put me through the most rigorous of algorithms to make colorful visualizations. They wrote reports and papers. And then the most surprising thing happened: scientists looked at me and discussed me in meetings. I remember their raised voices as they argued passionately about me one day.
I looked down at my body then, a new and larger thing. I was intermixed with a bunch of images and all kinds of new data. So many more arms and legs. I was more powerful as a part of something. I wondered: was this body there all of the time, a caterpillar waiting to become a butterfly? I felt like I could finally see myself in my entirety. I did not mind looking in the mirror.
I was helping these scientists develop a way to discern between animal and human motions. So far from my home, my body sprinkled over the planet and remade, I loved and I feared what my body could do. It gave me the ability to act as a hero or a villain. I could save a grandmother from a thief. Or I could be used in one of their wars.
I began to dream. Maybe they would find another use for my data, on another planet. I was thrilled to think of what it would be like to travel through space. A rover on Mars using the learnings they made from me to discover a new life scurrying across the red sand. I would look back at you, on the blue rock, and wonder if you were my mother or my child.
All Bodies Are Transition
About the Author
Lahim Lamar is a queer writer, disability advocate, and Accessibility Engineer living in Seattle, WA. He is currently working on a book of interconnected short stories. Originally from New York, he is interested in telling stories that have remained untold or forgotten.
The data that inspired this story was produced by the sensor capabilities of smart home cameras. Cameras can detect motion or sound at specific locations of the home. Out of the many cameras in that household, we selected two (backyard and living room), which together yielded 3,075 data points indicating the time of sensed motion or sound for a 30-day period, from May 20 to June 20, 2021.
For this story, we invited the writer to highlight the ways data move and travel, particularly to, from and within a home. Whenever data move about, settle in an archive or rest in a database, adventures await and involve human lives and world. We shared with the writer images from Data Centers to show the materiality of some of the infrastructure supporting smart devices' data.
The sensor capabilities of Wyze cameras allow to detect motion and sound. This graph shows data from a Backyard Cam and a Livingroom Cam between May 20th and June 20th 2021.
The sensor capabilities of Wyze cameras allow to detect motion and sound. This data is from Backyard Cam between May 20th and June 20th 2021.
I thought maybe I would try to look at the data set to see if there were some pattern in there, that I could work from but I didn't really see one, So from the images that I had and suggestion to move with the data sort of have the data be the central character started or the central theme—How does data actually become born?