The Anxieties of Big Data by Kate Crawford

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“What does the lived reality of big data feel like? 2014 is the year we learned about Squeaky Dolphin. That’s the Pynchon-worthy code name for a secret program created by British intelligence agency GCHQ to monitor millions of YouTube views and Facebook likes in real time. Of course, this was just one of many en masse data-collection programs exposed in Edward Snowden’s smuggled haul. But the Squeaky Dolphin PowerPoint deck reveals something more specific. It outlines an expansionist program to bring big data together with the more traditional approaches of the social and humanistic sciences: the worlds of small data. GCHQ calls it the Human Science Operations Cell, and it is all about supplementing data analysis with broader sociocultural tools from anthropology, sociology, political science, biology, history, psychology, and economics.

sqd1From British intelligence agency GCHQ’s “Squeaky Dolphin” presentation deck. GCHQ and the NSA are the old guards of big data, and despite their enormous budgets, technical infrastructure, and trained analysts, the big-data bonanza is not enough: They are reaching for other epistemologies by the dozen to try and make sense of it all. Though, as the slide above demonstrates, the deck contains enough academic disciplines for a royal flush (including a pair of ethnographies), it will never be enough: It reads like an extraordinary testament to anxiety. Already, the lived reality of big data is suffused with a kind ofsurveillant anxiety — the fear that all the data we are shedding every day is too revealing of our intimate selves but may also misrepresent us. Like a fluorescent light in a dark corridor, it can both show too much and not enough. Anxiety, as Sianne Ngai has written, has a temporality that is future oriented: it is an expectation emotion, and the expectation is generally of risk, exposure, and failure. British group Plan C in their blistering manifesto “We Are All Very Anxious” argue that anxiety is the dominant affect of our current phase of capitalism, engendering political hopelessness, insecurity, and social separation. But the trick of a dominant cultural affect is that it functions as a kind of open secret: Everyone knows it, but nobody talks about it. In order to work against it, we first have to recognize the condition and trace its contours.”

read the rest @ http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-anxieties-of-big-data/

About dmf

alienist @ large, mostly on foot
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