Big Brother is not watching you; he is directing you

Every year, after Christmas rolls around, I end up with a handful of amazing gifts (like a banjo this year) from my closest relatives, and a few gift cards from those I am not nearly close enough with.  Of course, I say thank you for the gift cards and then set about using them to get a few of those necessary items, that seem like a luxury while living on a college student-level budget.

This year, after logging on to Amazon to buy some new cold-weather gear I was amazed to see the items I was planning to buy displayed on my screen before I even searched for them.  Although I am well aware that companies often track consumer’s online activity, it is somewhat disconcerting to realize just how much they can learn about me as a person just from paying attention to the websites I view.  It is at times helpful to have shopping suggestions displayed, such as when I am searching for a new album to get me through the week.  However, it can also make the individual feel alienated from their identity as a valuable member of society. Oftentimes, I find myself wondering if the decisions and purchases I make online are my own, or the result of constant personalized advertisements.  As Karl Marx suggested in The Communist Manifesto, it begins to feel like human relations are reduced to mere financial transactions and opportunities for profit.

In the past year, controversial figure Edward Snowden revealed how thoroughly modern citizens are watched and monitored.  Many people viewed him as a hero for releasing the information, while others labeled him a national traitor and called for his incarceration.  My personal opinions aside, I think that another important question to be considered, is whether technology users can expect simultaneous online privacy and world-wide communication.  It seems, that the internet is similar to the traditional town-square: it allows for the individual to be heard and discuss things with a large audience, but because of its blanket coverage over all of society, it necessitates the removal of true privacy.

The article Dr. Martin posted here: , refers mainly to the ways data collectors and researchers are able to track web browser history in order to predict academic performance; i.e. if a student is spending 8 hours a day on Facebook, it is likely they will not perform well in their studies.  I think this aspect of data-mining illustrates possible benefits for educational reform.  However, it also seems somewhat counter-intuitive; more technology and monitoring is being used to combat problems created by technological overuse and social saturation.  I believe a more beneficial use of educational data collection would be to analyze the aspects of education and social need that are not being met in current school and university structures.

In conclusion, I think data collection is a natural by-product of the internet era; but internet users should be aware of the ways their data is being used.  As I write this blog, I am well aware that I am further-exposing myself to surveillance and that this will in turn, affect my future internet use and non-mediated social interactions.  However, I am hopeful this will allow for more a refined effective experience in the years to come.

For today however, social media and data collection has pointed me to the perfect pair of winter socks and a method to re-connect with those all too distant relatives.


One thought on “Big Brother is not watching you; he is directing you

  1. Josh,

    You have hit upon something that I believe will be the next big significant issue concerning privacy. What do we submit to when we choose to use the internet or any particular social networking tool? How do we decide what we can or will do, or cannot or will not, for that matter? How much influence do we have? I would put it this way: if you choose to use the web (in any form), you are willing to put up with most of what comes with it. I think the more important issue is one to which you elude. What comes with it? What does our usage really open us up to, and perhaps more importantly, who decides.

    I think we are all a bit naive and that is what I believe (when I am being philanthropic) Edward Snowden was trying to tell us. One the other hand, has he really committed espionage? As someone who was once in the military and who had a top secret clearance, what I know is that our government has been involved in the spying game both domestically and internationally much longer than most of us realize or want to believe. I am not sure if you ever saw the movie _A Beautiful Mind_ about John Nash. It is an amazing movie, but it takes on the idea of covert operations long before most of us thought about it.

    It is certainly a complex issue, but an important one.

    Dr. Martin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s