As the days tick by, the relentless collection of our data accelerates. To an extent, we are all willing accomplices in others using this data from our digital selves, to further their own aims.
We are occasionally reminded by events that leak into the public domain, of why we can access entertainment and communication channels for “free”.
There are the sporadic news articles of organisations willfully ignoring knowledge of the social damage their online services cause, or data breaches, or malevolant use of our data for political, criminal or economic advantage.
But by and large these haven’t even dented our insatiable appetite to download the lastest, endlessly scroll, like, share and upload our own contributions.
Increasingly, we are all sleep walking into another world.
Datopia is my description for the new era of human development where systematised and digitised data, is far more important to people than the Real World.
These days almost everywhere we go and everything we do, leaves little vapour trails of Shareable data. Much of this is to do with the devices that we use and, of course, mobile phones are foremost amongst these. Also however, we are sharing our most intimate details with data organisations in ways that signal a fundamental redefinition of being private individuals.
We are all aware of the trend in the last decade, of devoting increasing time and effort to creating and maintaining our virtual selves. These virtual selves and the complex social networks that we have constructed around them, demand ever higher levels of maintenance by us. The resulting streams of data from this activity, are all being harvested, winnowed, stored and then sold on to the harvesting organisation’s customers, or used to increase the ‘stickiness’ and sales of its products.
Currently, we are on the verge of these profound shifts in social behaviours and our relationships with data companies, causing real shock waves in the human condition.
In the early 1900’s, the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, described Cultural Hegemony and the mechanisms by which human social interactions are controlled and propagated. The premise of this theory is the imposition of a dominant value system that determines the social norms and received values of a society . At the time, Gramsci applied the theory to the class struggle, and ascribed the dominant value system to the ruling or upper classes. He characterised it as being a tool used by these classes to oppress and obtain acquiescence of the working class.
However, when we consider the impact of Big Data and increasingly AI/ML in determining what you will ‘also like’, search engines prioritising links and a myriad of other more subtle influences that ‘customise’ your experience, we realise that the impact of Big Data is creating a new and potent hegemonic value system.
We show all the signs of increasingly embracing this new hegemonic system to determine our attitudes and behaviour.
Personal devices, telecommunication networks, the internet, Big Data and AI/ML, are all acting in concert to supplant many of the previous hegemonic processes.
The following image illsutrates the data feedback loops that drive hegemonic change.
“Authoritative Information Is Dead!” – Fake News?
We are also all aware of the rapid erosion of authoritative information sources. We can choose opinion over fact and, as a result, swarm behaviour will replace objectivity.
These pivotal changes to value system propagation, will change our future lives in ways of which we are as yet unaware. However, of concern is that the power we are handing to these organisations is unprecedented and driven largely by commercial and political pressures.
Will these shifts be beneficial to us overall?
Big Data is Watching You
In George Orwell’s famous book titled Nineteen Eighty-Four, he conjured up a future where the subject of the story, Winston, works for the Department of Information rewriting history to fit the needs of the Party.
Big Brother watches over every aspect of peoples’ lives, vigilantly looking for any signs of non-conformance with the regime.
The current Shareability of personal data would have made the ruling elite in Orwell’s dystopian vision very happy indeed. People now reveal the tiniest minutiae of their lives, and even their innermost thoughts, in ways unthinkable when this classic was written. Social networks and the interactions between individuals in these networks, are all being monitored and analysed.
Big Data will provide the necessary analysis fodder to feed AI and Machine Learning, allowing them to understand you as an individual, infinitely better than anyone you know does – including you!
By understanding the human condition with ever more precision, our behaviours and what dictates them will become revealed. Once the drivers for why we do, what we do, are understood, brand-washing will leave us vulnerable to organisations triggering compulsive behaviours in us. Not only will we be defenceless against such manipulation, but we will probably even be totally unaware that we are being compelled and by what means.
In order to be a successful economic unit in this new world order, will we need to submit to the controllers of it? Will failure to comply mean exclusion?
This will affect all areas of human endeavour from employment and healthcare, to housing and education.
If this seems a little far-fetched, just consider who it is that ‘owns’ your credit rating? How would it affect your life if their algorithms made a mistake in assessing your rating that prevented your access to loans or credit cards for instance? Then imagine if your ability to remedy this involved significant effort or expense, or was reliant on legal action, or was just not possible!
In this vision of Datopia, the tables have been turned. Instead of Big Data being our beneficial servant, it has become an indomitable tyrant.
This article was first published several years ago but with recent global events I thought it is of renewed interest. It is based upon an excerpt from my Enterprise Data Architecture book that you might also find of interest. It is available from the usual booksellers across the globe and also from Amazon UK and Amazon US.