The question of technology and our relationship to it is one that has preoccupied me for some time now. It is separate from us as a concept – technology is not, so to speak, human – and yet it is deeply intimate in so many ways, so much as to make us think that our existence is dependent on it, as is our identity; Winner’s formulation of technology as a Wittgensteinian form of life (as I wrote about in my recent thesis) appears to me to be an appropriate joining of the human being and our technology, like Kevin Kelly’s ‘technium’, a kind of skin. But just as it becomes more deeply insinuated into our lives, there is something discomfiting about it, something unnatural, something foreign. Something alien, perhaps.
So let’s say the State becomes a platform, like we talked about in the last post. In order to participate in the State, in order to pay taxes, and get educational accreditation, access healthcare, and to get licensed to own dogs, own a gun, or drive a car, you need to subscribe to the platform. Let’s say then that the platform allows for commercial entities to participate, to advertise their wares on the State Platform, to ‘compete’ for consumer attention based on big data analysis of citizen behaviour and experience. What are the other things that are happening with technology that impact upon the evolution of the state?
I’ve not read much of Popper, a failing I’m looking to rectify soon. However, one snippit has intrigued me – his assertion that if we can predict a solar eclipse, then we should be able to predict revolutions. Saying that, I’m not entirely sure if it was an assertion (“…we should be…”) or a question (“…should we be…”). Nevertheless, our excess of instrumentation today through the integrated digital tooling of everything means that we can measure more than ever before. With social media, an appropriate big data infrastructure with cutting edge sentiment analytics should be able to measure the pulse of a people. That’s an experiment I’d like to set up some day, and hopefully I’ll get the time to do it.
A data scientist at Twitter, Edwin Chen, has used twitter to measure the prevalence of the term ‘soda’ versus ‘pop’ or ‘coke’ across the US, and the world. He compares his work to work done ten years previously on a survey basis, which reveals slight changes over time, but essentially concurs with Chen’s conclusions. In order to arrive at the data set, Chen had to clean the data by removing extraneous references. For example, references to specific drinks – like Coca Cola – were eliminated; and only those references to drinks were included. Then he was left with a pretty accurate picture as represented by Americans who use Twitter – and let’s presume for now that that’s a statistically accurate sample.
I linked yesterday to Ann-Marie Slaughter‘s excellent presentation to PopTech on International Relations and the non-state actors that influence and even dictate so much development in the world. Watching it again this morning (and it’s worth watching twice) a number of questions crossed my mind. First, she talks about social actors and ad hoc networks, but never quite gets to social networks. Just as ad-hoc supra-national organisations are bringing together strange bedfellows, and getting ahead of the State actors in driving change, people are developing connections and social networks beyond traditional family and even cultural groups; one could argue that technological change is facilitating the re-structuring of the DNA of culture. Kin, geography, language, religion and race remain important, but they are no longer the exclusive determinants of social alignment. People connect now through trade, sports, entertainment, hobbies, and other interests, forming close relationships. People’s identity – closely tied to these relationships – is changing. National identity is less relevant.
Quick post – interesting guardian article.
Two-sided freedom is an interesting concept. Isn’t that just freedom? Do we have less privacy online than we do offline? Anyone can snoop on us offline…right? People can be nosey…people can be earwigging. Is it really all that different? And how does it change our notions of identity if we craft it online?