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Monday, July 1, 2013

Our Brave, New World...

Our Brave, New World

Earlier this week my attention was turned to an article posted to the CBC News website written by Ira Basen: “Big Data’s got your number. Should you care?” Mr. Basen seems to be questioning the ethics and implications behind “data mining,” and how secure and accurate the analytical results might be. Through online multi-media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, email, and web based searches, are we providing too much personal information to those that make a point of monitoring our key strokes?

I found the article thought provoking, but for reasons not intended by the writer. 

This is the line that caught my attention and started me thinking:

"This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear …”

My first thought was of “Psychohistory.” 

My second thought was “Why does any of this surprise us?”

Thirdly, “Why does it upset us so?”

If an ad appears on your Facebook page, chances are it’s for something you have an interest in. Most of the ads I see on Facebook are for travel, hunting or fishing. Same with my Gmail page. On occasion I see an ad for Jeep or Apple and sometimes camera equipment. I drive a Jeep, my laptop is an Apple, I claim to be somewhat of a photographer. Rarely, if ever, do I see ads for prescription meds, hockey paraphernalia, tickets for the latest Broadway musical and thankfully porn nor male enhancement balms! Guess the "data miners" have my libido figured out!

Why doesn’t any of this surprise me? “Psychohistory” is why! Hari Seldon developed Psychohistory in the year 0 F.E. Psychohistory is a field of science and psychology that uses mathematics to predict the future, and with great accuracy. Didn’t anyone else see this coming?

We’re living in a world of information. And with all that information available to us and all the personal information we choose to post to the “Great World Wide Web,” why are we upset when others use it to predict our actions or hope to profit from our wants and desires? 

And why are we surprised by it?

We were all warned, folks. In high-school, in college, by the writers of novels we studied or read for fun. 

So for those of you that think we were blind-sided by the “data miners,” are upset by how third parties use the information you share, rant about the control others supposedly have on what and where you can share, or are simply upset by the images you view, it’s time to crack open a few books. 

All of what we have come to fear in this "age of information" was predicted years before the world wide web created the global village we now all call home. The printed word has always been a map to the future. The facts that shock us now are the fictions that amused us in the past.

Mr. Basen has prompted me into opening up some of those old “maps,” to retrace my travels and the routes that society has taken over the past few decades. I want to see just how many times we ignored the warnings these literary cartographers mapped out for us. Maybe we didn’t take the journey seriously enough, treating our travels like vacations and not fact finding missions.

So here is a list of the “literary maps” I’m going to reread, and in no particular order:

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess, 1962
Are any of us really surprised at the desensitizing of society? Acceptance of violence in everyday life is shocking, but so often we turn a blind-eye to it. And the state of modern music! 
Alex and his “droogs” adopted a new language, a complete disregard for society's mores and imbibed in new designer stimulants. 

Isaac Azimov, 1951
Hari Seldon's “Psychohistory” is not real, sorry! It’s the underlying theme in Foundation. But analytics and the algorithms built about data-mining will be as close as we’re going to come to it in this day and age. Mr. Azimov I’m sure, would not have been shocked at the ads that appear on Facebook!   

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley, 1931
Malthusian belts and state-sanctioned promiscuity. For my observations on this, one must ask me... 

Lord of the Flies
William Golding, 1954
Just look what happens when the selfish, the sociopathic and amoral go unchecked. Schoolyard and online bullying. And when those of questionable characters start running the banks, big business or parliament? The bullying of society in general.

George Orwell, 1949
Bullying and political correctness to the extreme.

Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad, 1899
A corrupt psychopath bent on becoming a god to those around him, bringing moral destruction to a people and environmental disaster to the land.

Girlfriend in a Coma
Douglas Coupland, 1998
Dystopia in Canada and from a pop-culture point of view; If for no other reason.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams, 1979
The actual “Hitchhiker’s Guide” was no more than a tablet, without the phone, the camera or the apps! But the storage capacity was unthinkable in the early ’80’s!

Most of these books have been made into movies, so if your summer is too busy for reading, watch some of them. If you’ve already read them, as many of us did in high-school or college, are the ideas expressed less shocking now than when we first read them? 

I don’t fear the data-miners, I don’t even fear how the information is crunched, ground up and processed. What I fear, yet also find the most compelling and provoking, is whether “Big Data” will lead to a Utopian Global Village or a grand Dystopian society. I have my suspicions.

Didn't we all see it coming?


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