Big Data (n.): when a collection of data gets so big it starts eating people.
Actually, it’s when we collect data from either a huge group of people, a huge amount of data points, or both and use it to draw new conclusions.
Speaking of monsters that eat people, here’s what H. P. Lovecraft warned about a certain kind of big data (of course he didn’t call it that) when writing a story about a huge monster that eats people:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
H. P. Lovecraft from “The Call of Cthulhu”
He was actually referring to more of a science-fiction terror, such as in his short story “From Beyond” where a machine materializes another dimension with huge slugs that float through the air and devour people. But maybe he’s on to something more… applicable.
If you want to learn about some ways data-mining is being used in positive ways, here’s a good summary. I don’t want to downplay the tremendous impact these benefits have now and can have in the future. I want to address the “terrifying vistas” that live in the private databases megacorporations, governments, and hackers and talk about some implications for your soul.
Your Soul’s Big Data
The scope of the content here is how culture affects your soul. While the topic is infinitely interesting, this is my focus: Big Data can be used against you to destroy your soul, so keep the switch to your brain in the “on” position when you use the internet and answer the phone.
Like never before, you can learn information about yourself through convenient data tracking methods like the smart watch. You may not have known how many calories you consume in a day, or how often you’re inactive, and these revelations can lead to a healthier lifestyle. But what about your vices? How often do you buy a candy bar at the store and what candy bar do you buy? What if a company had this information and placed an advertisement in front of you every day and offered to deliver you a box of the candy bar at the touch of a button? This is a tiny example of the kind of evil well underway.
Let’s take it a step further. There is a very good chance stores will be able to identify you on the way in, know your name, your product preferences, your family, and purchase history. Can you imagine the false reality a company could create with this information? Welcome to the science-fiction experience of retail marketing.
Phone numbers in mass quantity are for sale in the shady places of the internet. Purchase a monolithic handful, plug them into an outsourced call center, and you have yourself a class ‘A’ scam. I’m now getting at least one call per day (on my personal or work phone) from someone in another country telling me I’m either wanted by the IRS or there is a virus on my computer. Why someone in India would call me about that is beside me, but apparently it makes sense to someone otherwise these call centers wouldn’t be turning a profit.
Here’s the point: People are after you. Be aware. Yes. I am trying to scare you because the further and faster we travel into the digital future, the more synonymous data and power become.
The further and faster we travel into the digital future, the more synonymous data and power become.
@SoulsInSpace – blog
Data-mining and Data-trading
Here’s where your mind comes in. Recognizing this simple fact can help you on your way to responsible data-ownership. That’s right. You are the proud owner of your own data and you choose when to trade it. It’s become a digital commodity in the marketplace.
Not all data is retrieved by hackers on the black market. In fact, most data-mining is clean. The key to your heart is in your wallet. If an app is free and can save you time, it seems like a fair trade to give some information in exchange. Data-mining happens more often than not because we are selling that data by using products that require access to our information. It’s not free if you have to sign up.
It’s not as though every app you use has the capacity to turn your personal information against you. At the present, small bits of your information are all over town. But what about the big shots who harvest billions of data points per day? What about companies who are working behind the scenes to collect huge data pools and sell them? Like all creatures of earth, when the predators evolve, so too must the prey.
Here’s what I’m doing and suggesting you do the same:
- I will be clicking the “no” button as often as possible when prompted to allow this or that corporation to collect my information.
- I will recognize the people who are collecting my information are not my friends and guard my information accordingly.
- I will recognize that each convenience I add to my life through an app or subscription, the more of my privacy I give away.
- I will… try to remember all those websites for whose services I already signed up.
As for what new avenues of scientific discovery will open through the accessibility of Big Data and what frightful creatures are in store, maybe science-fiction can warn us, but one thing is for sure: the monsters are already among us – men and women who will stop at nothing to exploit the souls of other human being for their own gain. How can they get to you? Any door you leave open to them.
May wisdom guide us all.
Image credit to artist, Bennti Bisson [source].