The Algorithm and the Watchtower

The Algorithm and the Watchtower

by Colin Koopman


“The sheer number of facts being collected is unprecedented if not in fact unfathomable. To make sense of the new political power that can be built out of all this data requires metaphors, and these metaphors themselves are not without political stakes. Metaphors help shape the meanings of the activities in which we are engaged and they thereby help condition what possible actions we can conceive ourselves as undertaking. Metaphors thus have a political stakes in that they define the forms of power that control us and the forms of possible resistance to power we can imagine.”
“The government and corporate sectors’ algorithms work with data that is constantly being harvested and analyzed without our awareness — not only because the harvesting is sometimes in secret but also because we tend to not recognize the massive variety of mechanisms at play for turning our action, experience, and thought into data that categorizes, compartmentalizes, and calculates who we are.”
“Were we aware of the clang and clatter of our data being swept up and put together, we would be overwhelmed. But once we recovered from sensory overload, we could develop ways of taking more care of our data, learning more about how so much data is produced, and forming policies and practices that might have a fighting chance against the brave new worlds of informational ubiquity in which we are being enrolled. Every form of power has its vulnerabilities, and the specific weakness of what I call “infopower” is shutting off the data feed that supplies the algorithm.

Snowden hopes that the world “says no to surveillance.” Most advocates of privacy and critics of governmental and corporate tracking agree with him. But what if saying no to the watchtower does not yet amount to saying no to the algorithm? We have a sense of what is involved in saying no to surveillance. But who among us really knows how to say no to information ubiquity? And who among us would be audacious enough to stop churning out the data that increasingly defines our very selfhood?”

From The New Inquiry


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