Patterns of tree canopy set against blue sky

The picture data paints of us

Taking it to be true that humans have never lived as we currently do – that modern technology and all that comes along with it are a new reality on the face of the earth – it seems reasonable to wonder where that’s likely to lead. Isn’t it that people, as a whole, have never had this kind of power or lived under this kind of scrutiny? How it’s going to affect us and the systems that’ll be created out of it can’t be unreasonable concerns.

Often, there seems a kind of inevitability to it all: that certain people or organisations have cast this web around us and we’ve little opportunity at this point to complain or seek to challenge the ideas they may have in mind for us (Notes One). As if our lives are now in their hands, to do with as they please – weaving those lives into whatever configuration they choose while using their intricate knowledge of us to make that possible.

Data seems such a powerful thing. Our lives effectively having been ushered into this alternative reality, before we were fully aware of the risks, and turned into a series of interactions, connections and moments where our every move, decision, thought can be observed, collated and understood even better than we might really know ourselves.

So much of “all we do” being habitual or based on patterns beneath our awareness, anyone tracking and analysing the trail we leave in our wake stands to piece together a picture of us “we” may never truly see. Pulled together, our data must present quite an overview of all we’re imprinting on reality through our existence – a fuller sense of “how we are” than many of us, perhaps, possess.

It’s a knowledge of human nature no one before us seems to have had: a real-time observation of almost everything everyone everywhere is choosing to do with their time. It must be an incredible “picture” of humanity, our concerns and the countless details of our lives. Even as we’re being tempted and distracted in all these new ways, people are watching and learning from the choices we’re all making. (Notes Two)

That certain entities have this intensely personal yet incredibly systemic overview of “humanity” is quite astonishing to contemplate. What are they planning to do with this knowledge of us? What’s it like, psychologically, to live our lives knowing that “someone” is watching all that we do and dreaming up visions for our future? As if we’re all being folded into systems which have their own designs for our lives.

Given how data would only be gathered if it’s seen to be useful or valuable, it doesn’t seem possible to view “all this” as neutral; this observation of us must be being used to inform projects people have in mind for “the world”. That human activity would be “captured” this way, mapped out to such a degree, and used to shepherd us all into some new future surely demands a lot of trust?

Notes and References:

Note 1: Whether we make a difference
Note 1: Overwhelm and resignation
Note 1: Treating people like sims?
Note 1: Shaping the buildings that shape us
Note 2: Freedom, responsibility & choice
Note 2: Pace of change & getting nowhere fast
Note 2: Is this the ultimate test?
Note 2: Trust in technology?
Note 2: All in such a rush

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