Waking up at 3am one morning, I noticed that the cable box next to the television in my bedroom was flashing like a strobe. I know that the cable company monitors my viewing habits, but the visual aggressiveness of this data extraction felt particularly invasive. The following morning I started to do some research about surveillance capital and data mining.
I discovered that during the dotcom crash of the 1990’s Google discovered a surplus created by their users – our personal data. It became so profitable for them to sell and so easy to obtain, that this by-product is now a primary revenue generator for Facebook / Instagram / Whats App, Amazon, Apple, Google and Tesla, among others.
Governments everywhere аre allowing new surveillance technologies without regulations or safeguards. These new technologies mine our lives, without interruption, and are destabilizing democracy itself, further marginalizing those who already аre, and making data collectors or the Big Other, as described by Shoshana Zuboff in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the most powerful entities on the planet.
It seems like The Big Other wants every trace of human behavior to be translated into information, a commoditization of reality, transformed into behavioral data for profit. In 2015 an executive of a major technology company said, “Our goal is to create a nervous system throughout the planet that will merge an ever present sensoria onto human perception. We will informate the breeze blowing in the trees, the bees buzzing and even your breakfast conversations”.
However, humans аre not reliable when producing information, and eventually experience fatigue. This is why Elon Musk recently discussed hardwiring humans so that they can output more data, at a higher quality. Testing for this could come from medical trials where a chip is implanted into the brain to stabilize or enhance motor function for people with Parkinson’s Disease or traumatic brain injuries. The Big Other knew as early as 2014 that the shadowy world of VR would not be infinitely profitable, because humans know what is “real”. The key would be assimilating devices into the real world so covertly that they would eventually become part of us.
I decided to monitor myself (and my surroundings) using a convex security mirror, a tool often used to catch shoplifters in stores, before digital surveillance, to really make me feel like I was being suveilled. Ironically, when I was photographing in public spaces, security would often stop me or other people would get angry if they thought they were not being photographed, yet they аre giving far more private information away, WILLINGLY everyday. Once I had my images edited, I marked extraction points with XML brackets to denote data pull and in doing this I realized how integrated we already аre with our devices – assimilation is already here.
Remarkably, we don’t feel the cost of having our lives excavated online because data mining is a time-shift risk, the exploitation doesn’t have an impact until it is used against us, for example; during a period of social unrest when a seamless public transit system can turn into a prolific source of information for surveillance or when healthcare companies start denying coverage, based on data collected from apps connected to a sleep apnea machine or smart devices, like AppleWatch and Fitbit.
Big Data has now surpassed the value of crude oil as a commodity. We give access to our information freely, via apps and social media. Our personal information is analyzed, sent back to us in a way that aims at control of our behavior and guarantees curated, reactive results for the people who can pay. We have only to look at social media campaigns aimed at determining elections in Trinidad & Tobago, America in 2016 and Brexit, to see the results of our own data in action…we have become our own enemy.