This is a really well put together “primer” on the future internet, data aggregation, and potential for misuse. (Please, watch it before continuing.) However, it ends with the usual, disappointing “They can track you everywhere” scare-quote that is so easily ignored. “So what,” I hear friends say all the time, “I’m not doing anything wrong, so why do I care if someone knows what I’m doing?”
Tracking, stalking, abusing the data is (or should be) the least of our concerns.
Instead of “stalking”, you should perhaps be concerned about “stock”ing. You should care because of Temple Grandin.
Grandin is an autistic woman who learned how to take advantage of her special gifts as a visual thinker. Her story is portrayed in an eponymous movie from 2010, starring Claire Danes. I highly recommend it — on its own merits, and as background for what I’m writing here.
Grandin is a visual thinker, most famous for observing cattle in stockyards and seeing patterns in their behavior, movement, mooing, which others simply could not see or recognize. She used her observations to design a “funnel”
for moving cattle from the stockyard to the slaughterhouse in a way that calmed the animal. Calm animals are more efficient and profitable. They don’t kill themselves in stampedes. They don’t flip upside down in the “dip trough” baths, causing delay and lost profit. Cowboy wranglers don’t waste time settling the herd before resuming the parade to the abattoir. The system creates “efficient flow of energy/product, by which we profit.” The person concerned with such things? The cattle owner; not so much the cattle.
The new Internet described in the primer above is effectively Grandin’s mind on steroids, implemented by people seeking to access your generative wealth; seeking your cooperation, and participation in their profit flow, with as few disruptions and delays as possible. Demographic and behavioral data aggregation is on a perpetual feedback loop into the system, to nudge you toward further participation; toward specific decisions, to make your behavior more predictable and “calmable.” It is the control tool in the hands of people who view most other humans as no more than another form of cattle.
Grandin’s autism allowed her to focus on the animals’ comfort as they marched to slaughter. She was unable to comprehend the slaughter itself. The slaughter was going to happen. Period. At the very least, she thought, the trip to the stun-gun could be comfortable. “The world is cruel,” she says repeatedly in the movie, “but we don’t have to be.”
Data aggregation allows the people with access to that data — i.e. the stockyard owners and meat packers, in my metaphor — to slowly bleed us economically, while making us think the convenience we exchange for the privilege of marching to slaughter is worth it. The cattle don’t get access to the data. The cattle don’t have a choice about whether they want to participate, or if they do it will be at a significant alternative cost. Think of your grocery store “super saver club” card. You can opt out, but you will pay.
The cattle have no choice in whether they will be slaughtered. “Cui bono,” in this new internet abattoir? Those with access to the data it churns out in quantities unimaginable to most people, and inaccessible TO most people. Git along, li’l Dogie, Git Along.
Data aggregation of this type is the ultimate example of collusion and collaboration at the highest economic levels for maximizing the profit of those who do not see themselves as cattle. You can buy access to the data, but to afford that you will need to turn some other group into YOUR cattle, to pay the big-data vendors. Meanwhile, those individuals without access (or even knowing the data exists) are divided into discrete, pacifiable units not allowed to collectively bargain, or have access to the same data for their personal benefit or profit.
No, we’re expected to get in the funnel. Take advantage of all the cool features and conveniences. Pay no attention to the cowboys keeping us moving toward our date with a pneumatic bolt to the Temple. Grand, innit?
== == = == == = == == = =====
(For a little something different, please enjoy Monty Python’s “Architect” sketch, proving once again that they saw human nature through clear, hilarious eyes.)