Big data? No. Vast data, enormous data, unimaginably colossal data ties our world together. Some have said it also ties us down, since departments like the National Security Agency are combing through a part of our huge reservoir for intelligence on foreigners who might threaten the U.S. Yet this behavior is now the status quo, one that will not go away, nor diminish. It’s a doleful one if you deem it an open invitation to 1984-style tyranny, or an exhilarating one if you see a world of ever-expanding knowledge and opportunity.
Regardless, data culture is growing at a stupefying rate. It’s estimated that 90 percent of all the data in the world has been generated in the last two years, and the rate itself is increasing. We humans, ordinary people going about our business, are creating most of that data, because we have come to need it to shop, to bank, to access benefits, to be part of a health service, to educate our children, to be secure, to play games, to form and maintain modern friendships, to find partners… in other words, to live in the world.
To live outside of this networked world we would need to live in isolation, growing and hunting your own food without utilities. Or we would have undergone a catastrophe, the kind of thing contemporary dystopian fiction likes to conjure up. Since few of us want to try the first and none of us wish to be victims of the second, we’re stuck in the Net.
We’re stuck, and we have to adapt to it — as we have adapted to the other technologies that we have invented and produced. We have adapted to the steam engine and the internal combustion engine. We’ve adapted to the telephone and the television. We must now adapt to a world where public and private centers of power and authority know or can discover wads of information on us. And we must become comfortable with the reality that it is information we have half-unconsciously handed over.
To adapt, we must trust. We have to trust the state, the government, the politicians, the businesses, the bureaucracies, the police, the security forces, the journalists and, yes, ourselves.