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[sogeti] Andrew Keen on Vertigo and Big Data

Andrew Keen is speaking. (I liveblogged him this spring when he talked at a Sogeti conference.) His talk’s title: “How today’s online social revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us.” [Note: Posted without rereading because I’m about to talk. I may go back and do some cleanup.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Andrew opens with an anecdote. He grew up as a Jew in Britain. His siblings were split between becoming lawyers or doctors. But his mother asked him if he’d like to be the anti-Christ. So, now he’s grown up to become the anti-Christ of Silicon Valley.

“I’m not usually into intimacy,” but look at each other. How much do we know about each other? Not much. One of the great joys is getting to know one another. By 2017 there will 15x more data flowing over the network. Billions of intelligent devices. “The world we are going into is one in which 2o-25 years…you strangers will show up in a big city in London and you’ll know everything about each other.” You’ll know one another’s histories, interests…

“My argument is that we’re all stuck in Digital Vertigo. We’re all participants in a digital noir.” He shows a clip from Vertigo. “In the future these kinds of scenes won’t be possible. There won’t be private detectives…So this movie about the unfolding of understanding between strangers won’t happen.” What happens to policing. “Will we be guilty if we don’t carry our devices.” [SPOILERS] The blonde in this movie doesn’t exist. She’s a brunette shopgirl from Kansas. “The movie is about a deception…A classic Hitchcock narrative of falling in love with something that doesn’t exist. A good Catholic narrative…It’s a warning about falling in love with something that is too good to be true.” That’s what we’re doing with social media nd big data. We’re told big data brings us together. They tell us the Net gives us the opportunity for human beings to come together, to realize themselves as social beings. Big data allows us to become human.

This is about more than the Net. The revolution that Carlotta is talking about is one in which the Net becomes central in the way we live our lives. Fifteen years ago, Doc Searls, David W., and I would be marginal computer nerds, and now our books can be found in any book store. [Doc is in the audience also.]

He shows a clip from The Social Network: “We lived on farms. Now we’re going to live on the Internet.” It’s the platform of 21st century life. This is not a marginal or media issue. It is about the future of society. Many people this network will solve the core problems of life. We now have an ecosystem of apps in the business of eliminating loneliness. E.g., Highlight, “the darling of the recent SxSW show.” They say it’s “a fun way to learn more about people nearby.” Then he shows a clip from The Truman Show. His point: We’re all in our own Truman Shows. The destruction of privacy. No difference between public and private. We’re being authentic. We’re knowingly involving ourselves in this.

A quote: “Vertigo is the ultimate critics’ film because it is a dreamlike film about people who are not sure who they but who are busy econstructing themselves and each other to a f=kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul mate.” Substitute social media for film. We’re losing what it means to be using. We’re destroying the complexity of our inner lives. We’re only able to live externally. [This is what happens when your conceptual two poles are public and private. It changes when we introduce the term “social.”]

Narcissism isn’t new. Digital narcissism has reached a climax. As we’re given personal broadcasting platforms, we’re increasingly deluded into thinking we’re interesting and important. Mostly it reveals our banality, our superficiality. [This is what you get when your conceptual poles are taken from broadcast media.]

It’s not just digital narcissism. “Visibility is a trap,” said Foucault. Hypervisibility is a hypertrap. Our data is central to Facebook and others becoming viable businesses. The issue is the business model. Data is oil, and it’s owned by the rich. Zuckerberg, Reed Hoffman, et al., are data barons. Read Susan Cain’s “Quiet”: introverts drive innovation. E.g., Steve Wozniak. Sharing is not good for innovation. Discourage your employees from talking with one another all the time. It makes them less thoughtful. It creates groupthink. If you want them to think for themselves, “take away their devices and put them in dark rooms.”

It’s also a trap when it comes to govt. Many govts are using the new tech to spy on their citizens. Cf. Bentham’s panopticon, which was corrupted into 1984 and industrial totalitarianism. We need to go back to the Industrial Age and JS Mill — Mill’s On Liberty is the best antidote to Bentham’s utilitarianism. [? I see more continuity than antidote.]

To build a civilized golden age: 1. There is a role for govt. The market needs regulation. 2. “I’m happy with the EU is working on this…and came out against FB facial recognition software. … We have a right to forget.” “It’s the most unhuman of things to remember everything.” “We shouldn’t idolize the never-forgetting nature of Big Data.” “To forget and forgive is the core essence of being human.” 3. We need better business models. We don’t want data to be the new oil. I want businesses that charge. “The free economy has been a catastrophe.”

He shows the end of The Truman Show. [SPOILER] As Truman enters reality, it’s a metaphor for our hope. We can only protect our humanness by retreating into dark, quiet places.

He finishes with a Vermeer that shows us a woman about which we know nothing. In our Age of Facebook, we need to build a world in which the woman in blue can read that letter, not reveal herself, not reveal her mystery…”

Q: You’re surprising optimistic today. In the movie Vertigo, there’s an inevitability. How about the inevitability of this social movement? Are you tilting at windmills.

Idealists tilt at windmills. People are coming to around to understanding that the world we’re collectively creating is not quite right. It’s making people uneasy. More and more books, articles, etc., that FB is deeply exploitative. We’re all like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. The majority of people in the world don’t want to give away their data. As more of the traditional world comes onto the Net, there will be more resistant to collapsing the private and the public. Our current path is not inevitable. Tech is religion. Tech is not autonomous, not a first mover. We created Big Data and need to reestablish our domination over it. I’m cautiously optimistic. But it could go wrong, especially in authoritarian regimes. In Silicon Valley people say privacy is dead, get over it. But privacy is essential. Once we live this public ideal, then who are we.

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