Big Data-Mining Big Apathy Shifts in Scale


Please excuse the crowd sourcing, but would anyone out there let me know what you think about the big data-mining data-surveillance story? I’m asking because I’m surprised that most of my left progressive friends don’t seem to care. I’m actually of two minds about the two programs, but I expected a more consistently negative reaction to it from my more if not most of my friends. It could be that liberals and progressives would have been more up in arms if this story had broken under a Republican administration, as did happen with a similar surveillance program during the Bush years. Or could it be that Foucault has so inoculated us to knowledge-power that we simply all shrug and understand this to be part of the order of things? But I’ve heard from at least two friends further out to the left than me that, yes, on the hand, this is what they have come to expect, and also that they “have nothing to hide.”

This story involves complex epistemological and political questions. Meanwhile, life  on my FB feed more or less continues on as if nothing has happened, as if knowing in a more formal and explicit way that something like this actually exists makes no difference as to how we go about in the world. I was struck by the front page of yesterday’s New York Times. It ran stories about governments bullying and incarcerating their citizens in Turkey and China, and a $20,000,000,000 plan to shore up the New York City coast with walls and levees in response to climate change; also a call by Mayor Bloomberg for New Yorkers to stop contributing to Democratic representatives in Congress who oppose gun control. I wonder if this is just me, how perceptions can shift on a dime. Thank God for clichés, but yes, it’s a brave new world, and I wonder how we go about conceiving mind-boggling shifts in scale.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Big Data-Mining Big Apathy Shifts in Scale

  1. dmfant says:

    well I care, like I’m horrified by global warming, but because of the questions/matters of scale/resources/organization/processing-powers I don’t see any really effective way of resisting such epic forces.

  2. lurker says:

    To me the most viable way out of this mess is something like this:
    Basically go bring back the peer-to-peer origins of the internet (vs current client-server model) to decentralize and make it much more difficult if not impossible to do such data-mining.

  3. David says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post and I think that the cynical angle certainly has a critical edge to it. Gawker did a post very similar to yours and they pull quotes from NYT people etc to affirm their perspective.
    Additionally I would say that apathy polices the populace in all sorts of terrifying ways especially when it is coupled with a growing sense of catastrophism + cynicism into a very toxic mix for the political project.

    Personally I wasn’t shocked at all by the story but it still outrages me. I want it to change however I doubt that it will, especially after the defeats that were handed out to the EFF in recent years.

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