AnthroPunk, Ph.D.
May 13, 2017 · 4 min read

By S.A. Applin, May 13, 2017

Our New Relationships. Image of Amazon Fulfillment Centre, Fife. Photo Chris Watt

Technology today is consuming us. This isn’t about how our mobile devices are changing our behavior. Yes, in ways, many of us are tethered to our devices and the network, and as a result, this causes problems, but not just in the “ignoring people near us” fragmented way. The outcome of our collective network behavior is causing us to become Big Data food: Algorithm Chow™ for AI, if you will.

Surveillance is a form of consumption. We are bot feeders in many ways, and it is getting worse. The data we generate, our behavior, words, actions, speech, photographs, videos, locations, etc. all generate little troughs of data and big old Amazon, Google, Apple, and others, are flitting from trough to trough, gorging on our data. For it is only with that data, that they can continue to evolve, expand, and offer products and services based on analyzing and synthesizing these pieces and records of our humanity and behaviors. They need us.

The driver for human relations is cooperation. To cooperate, we don’t need to know much about each other at all. We can come together and do a task with a stranger, and never even need to disclose our names. However, because humans are social, long-standing, complex cooperation relies upon trusted relationships. Humans form trust by mutually sharing pieces of ourselves with others, such as our histories and our journeys. To build trust, we share bit by bit with others, and they disclose bit by bit with us. This mutual disclosure creates a trusted foundation for how we make and maintain relationships, which we rely upon for complex cooperation. We can cooperate somewhat without disclosing much at all, but we survive within a highly complex system of cooperation building relations based on mutual trust.

For humans, relations with others are matter, and relationships populate the roles we assume between us when we relate — if these are to continue in any sustained manner. Thus, because we are social creatures, relationships and relations are critical for sustained cooperative efforts. We need each other to survive. We cannot cooperate, collaborate, or share in complex ways without some form of social relations, and without cooperation we will die. Flat out. Die. We need each other. Our entire system of living is built upon a massive amount of coordinated labor, organized and executed through a complex web of social relationships, many of these quite indirect.

There are people who think that they don’t need others. Many of them don’t want others. They may not have social skills, and they may not want to relate to those whom they don’t know, or they may feel that simply it isn’t important for them to connect with “strangers” in order to survive. Repeatedly, they will say that they get what they need delivered (via Amazon, Instacart etc.), and that their entertainment comes via the network, and that they are just fine connecting on the phone to friends in distant locales when they are walking through their local locale because they can “catch up that way,” and all sorts of other rationales.

This is a mirage. There are thousands of people who are invisibly cooperating with each other in a social manner on a broad scale on a daily basis to enable any of this preferred isolation or these chosen interactions.

The social, the relationships, the soft bits of life and living cannot be automated and delivered. The mechanisms which organize these, can, but not the stuff of living, in any sustained way.

What the people who claim to be avoiding the “extraneous social” do not realize is that because they have shifted much of their cooperative model to the Internet, they have forfeited way more information than they would ever need to disclose with a person to get the same goods.

By being willing to acquire what they need to survive though semi-autonomous systems, humans feed the consumption of data collection. What gets consumed by these systems now, are the patterns of cooperation, in addition to what is desired as an object, service, or outcome.

This extra bit, these patterns, feed most serious and vociferous entities with the data that informs a rapidly approaching AI and automation in our world. These entities cannot develop their automated homes, smart doo-dads, and predictive analytics without a vampiric extraction of our behaviors and patterns that are only possible to collect at present if we are assume a non-social stance, and conduct our business online or through apps, rather than in person.

Thus, the coming computational relational future requires us to be anti-social in order for the AI network to simulate “sentience” and be social.

In our quest to avoid the inconvenience of social interaction with others, we are actually enabling a very small subset of strangers to own all of us. We’re at a crux: we have evolved to a point where many of us rely upon our mobile devices, apps, websites, and distribution networks, many automated or semi-automated, for our supplies, governance, and livelihoods. We’re hooked in, and the data reapers need to harvest. Out of need, we cooperate with them by giving them our lived experiences online. Like it or not, we have a deep social relationship with them.

ITP Alumni

Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University

AnthroPunk, Ph.D.

Written by

(S.A. Applin, Ph.D.) AnthroPunk looks at how people promote, manage, resist and endure change; how people hack their lives (and others)

ITP Alumni

Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University

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