Data Love and Data Hatred
The environmental challenge of the early 21st century is for us to master data rather than for it to master us. We are in danger of becoming a data rich, yet ignorant and narcissistic society.
We live in the age of data. Everything – from our biological code to our economic identity to the technology of our social relations – has been reduced to data. We have become transformed into data in the way it was once thought that we were playthings of the gods, possessed immortal souls or were objects in perpetual motion.
Data has become the-thing-in-itself, the first mover, what appears to lie behind everything else. Data companies like Google, LinkedIn and Facebook are the fastest growing corporations in the world and their young founders – billionaire data bankers and traders like Mark Zuckerberg, Reid Hoffman and Larry Page – are the Rothschilds and the Henry Fords of the 21st century, all powerful, masters of our digital universe, reshaping economics, culture and politics according to their own interests and values.
Data is now so pervasive, so ubiquitous, so seemingly unavoidable that it now appears inevitable, as if it is written into the very laws of the universe. Data even has its own contemporary metaphysicians – thinkers whose view of the world is built around data.
“In the long run,” James Gleick, one particularly seductive metaphysician of data thus argues, “history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.”
But we’ve heard this before, of course. Marx, for example, argued that history is the story of the proletariat becoming aware of itself. He was wrong. And the truth is that data has no more chance of becoming aware of itself than the proletariat, artificially intelligent robots or vanilla ice-cream.
Unfortunately, however, our current infatuation with data is no joke. Today’s age of data is compromising our privacy and freedom as individuals. From Google street view to FourSquare geo-location updates to Facebook’s unrelenting attempts to make all our information public, the seemingly unstoppable flood of traditionally private data undermines our ability to mould our own coherent personalities.
And the inconvenient truth about today’s data love is that it is a form of self-love. Our love of data is both a cause and a consequence of the increasing narcissism of the information age, it is the existential cry of existence in an information economy increasingly dominated by self-referential reality shows and confessional social networks.
So the challenge is to stop loving data. To live coherent lives, to maintain our privacy and autonomy, we need less rather than more data. The environmental challenge of the early 21st century is for us to master data rather than for it to master us. We are in danger of becoming a data rich, yet ignorant and narcissistic society. In the long run, data could destroy us – unless, of course, we destroy it first.
Originally published at NEXT word!
About the author
Andrew Keen is an Anglo-American entrepreneur, writer, broadcaster and public speaker. He is the author of the international hit CULT OF THE AMATEUR: How the Internet is killing our culture which has been published in 17 different languages and was short-listed for the Higham’s Business Technology Book of the Year award.
As a pioneering Silicon Valley based Internet entrepreneur, Andrew founded Audiocafe.com in 1995 and built it into a popular first generation Internet music company. He is currently the host of “Keen On” show, the popular TechCrunch chat show. Andrew is an acclaimed speaker on the international circuit, speaking regularly on the impact of new technology on 21st century business, education and society.
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