“If the part is conceived without any reference to the whole, it becomes itself a whole-an independent entity;”
Spencer, Data of Ethics
From the perspective generated by the above quote it seems more likely that you would have to first describe what is meant by ethics, before beginning to consider Data. But a conversation on ethics, as far as it is concerned to anything American, is not a conversation I am yet prepared to have. Although it will be considered within the scope this essay, “for arguments sake”, as they say. Ethics, for its greater part has in many ways dissolved and been consumed by Data itself. Because the ultimate justification of GOOD ethics (i.e. profitable or justifiable) is a representation of positive Data, which renders the inertia of the discerning body ethics, speculative at best.
What this means is that ethics in its classical sense, is dead. Or as Nietzsche put it, “God is dead”. Because the only difference between a analytical conversation about ethics and a religious conversation is any moralistic consideration. Which cannot approach the arena of raw data without the bean counters screaming heresy. There is a new papal teat at which the empirical rationalists suckle, Data.
Sorry for being dramatic. But when you read Spencer, who wrote the Data of Ethics in 1879, way before any concept of digital data ever came into vogue, scientific thought was still considered through the eyes of the romantic historian. Closer to Newton than Einstein. Which is actually a nice transition in order to simplify what is going to be a relatively complex subject.
When most people consider mathematics they think 2 + 3 = 5, or if I make another 5,000 dollars this year I can buy a new car, about gas prices climbing, tax return returning, temperature changing, number of sexual partners one can call friends… I think you get my point. Which is a fine way to see mathematics. A practical way. A micro-economic view. Where you are the entire economy. Which has become the most expressed outlet of our common mathematical knowledge. A knowledge which extends infinitely in both directions. A sentence that will no doubt make a mathematician giggle.
What Newton did when he considered analytic geometry and calculus was create a system that dealt with this sort of bean counting on an astronomical scale. Which is not an exaggeration, although it usually is. This creation gave us a framework for understanding and analyzing what we now very casually refer to as Data.
So what is Data?
Wiki: “Data; is a set of values of qualitative or quantitative variables;”
Well that’s not a very helpful description.
Data is a numerical representation of anything that can be configured to relate to anything else. Everything is data. Your height, weight, salary, the number of sexual partners you would consider to be enemies. All of these things abide in a regular calculable numerical flow, which is itself data, that renders these inherent data points as below, above, or utterly average. Each individual representing their own bibliography of empirical actions and reactions rendered over the course of a lifetime.
Now to Einstein.
Energy is equivalent to the mass of a body times the speed of light squared. This is Einstein’s famous equation. I am relatively sure (yes that’s a joke) that most people can at the very least identify this equation as having something to do with physics and possibly Einstein, but anything beyond that becomes overly complex and specialized and sort of unnecessary to every day life. I am not going to pretend that I have any concept of special relativity. But I do understand that this Theory of Special Relativity, still undisputed champion of the scientific world, has a measureable effect on every human being everywhere.
In relation to our current subject, which I will breach in due time, Special Relativity is very concrete. Allow me to break it down.
Energy is the life force of the cosmos. Not God, or money, or time, or whatever humanity has put on the proverbial pedestal this century. It is the energy projected from the sun which sustains all life on earth. So human beings, independent of their data (i.e. height, weight, color, nationality, income, gender,) are all dependent on and a part of this energy.
Mass in most cases is considered in terms of matter or weight. In the current context, Data, the definition is slightly different because we cannot weight data. You cannot put how much you love someone on a scale and extrapolate its value. If you were to weight the total number of cigarettes you smoke every day the data you would collect from this measurement would, although helpful for perspective, not truly explain what cigarettes mean to you or the effect they have on your biological processes. In order to understand that we must use data in a different way. What Mass, or data in this case, represents considering the application of special relativity under this context, is our lives. The totality of our physical being. Everything about who we are as human beings, what we are. From effectiveness of metabolic pathways and bone density, to favorite ice cream flavor and how many miles you walk daily. This is our mass and this is our data.
If you have come this far in the post then I am assuming you have geared yourself to shift through the technical bullshit in order to reach some sort of simplistic overview. Which is coming, stay strong. What this next component represents gets kind of hairy. (There is a joke here for later, I hope you get it.)
The speed of light is something we as human beings cannot comprehend. Words like instantaneous transmission, infinity, and quantum become common place jargon in this arena. But the point of this essay is not to educate you about the speed of light, or mass, or energy, or Einstein, Newton, Calculus, or any thing like that. This is about data. But in order to understand data we must understand how we transmit it and store it. Which brings us to the speed of light. Because the internet, digital television, phone calls, and all of the neurons in our brain operate at nearly this speed.
The reason that I have hope for the world is because of the internet. Our culture has yet to fully comprehend what it means to our civilization. The beautiful thing about the human lifespan, and its limit, is that we are not encumbered by the plight of perspective. I have no idea what it is like to travel by horseback. Yet one hundred and fifty years ago it was standard. I cannot drive a stick shift, forty years ago it was standard. I have only slept with three girls that keep hair on their vagina. Twenty five years ago there were bushes everywhere.
What these examples signify, outside of a brief relief from pedantry, is that in the span of a human lifetime the external culture has shifted so drastically that what was once standard has become obsolete. Imagine someone riding a horse down the street in your neighborhood, people would think they were bat-shit. The reason that I included the last example is because it speaks to something about our generation and our relationship to the speed of light that I find really interesting. And not just because it concerns female genitalia.
For the entire history of humankind, as far as we know anyway, we had hair. Over the course of time our need for body hair diminished. Biologically we changed. As we became more sophisticated as a society, hair became less of a biological tool that insulates the body and more prominent in defining each person as an individual. We see this still today from Muhammadans maintaining beards to westerns paying 150$ for a hair cut.
The reason that the maintenance and removal of pubic hair is unique in this process is because it is hidden most of the time. So the idea that this impulse did not come from some readily accessible common external source, or inherent biological process, or authoritarian decree (which were the only former three means of compulsion). Also it was not some independent decision that took place simultaneously and unknowingly by woman everywhere. Yet here it is. The only real explanation comes in the form of pornography. If you could access the data that represents the dissemination of pornography and the volume of pubic hair on human bodies I would wager you would find a perfectly inverse relationship.
What does any of this have to do with Data you may ask? Or the speed of light? What the actual fuck am I talking about.
Well, you see, what the hairless genital represents here is my generations comprehension of massive communication that happens, specifically at this moment, at speed which approaches the speed of light. And what effect this interaction has on not only our culture as a whole but to our cognitive ability as a person.
It took fifty or more years for the powdered wig to become a staple of culture. It took less than a decade for people to begin maintain their pubic hair without the endorsement of any governing body, public figure (at least that we hold in any sort of esteem), or common visual exposure. What this means, and how it relates to the overall point, is that my generation, which has been brought up with television and had a front row seat to both MS DOS and Google Plus, is hypersensitive to the transmission of information thorough a medium that operates closer to the speed of light than anything previous in the span of recorded human history. Be it PornHub or Sprout TV, we both accept and transfer this digital information (which is really just a way of saying data) without any preconceived context of another medium. We have developed, unbeknownst to the powers that be, a sort of invisible network of common knowledge and experience.
We comprehend the speed of light, if we know it or not, unlike any generation before us.
And this is where I have to stop and fluff for a minute because its not only important but kind of fun.
When I write about my generation I am writing about a very specific group. People born in the late eighties to very early nineties, 1984-(yea I know)-1994 is probably the ten year prime time window. A time in history where you didn’t actively have to attempt to integrate technology into your being so much as simply allow it to wash over you. The reason, and this is important, for the 1994 cut off is because we have some frame of reference of a time before smartphones and Facebook, when our brains were still active and malleable enough to realize the treasure trove our younger generations almost surely take for granted.
This generation, which I so arrogantly (and as far as grammar is concerned technically falsely) claim as my own, holds a unique plateau in the history of humanity. Our parents had JFK and Jimi Hendrix, their parents had the A-bomb and Civil Rights, their parents the great depression and the advent of motor vehicles. How fucking lucky are we to get to know the difference between dial-up and digital porno download speeds.
All joking aside our role as a generation in how the world will be shaped after we are gone is realized by how we utilize and manipulate theses technologies. How we choose to use them and how we choose to censor them. Our perspective is unique and of the utmost importance. It is our duty to use these outlets with the respect for the power they have.
Ok. Sorry. Just had to make an overall point of why I think this is important. Back to my main point…
So to sum up the contribution of both Einstein and Newton, which is a funny thing to write, as far as they are concerned with Data. They gave us the mathematical, theoretical, and physical knowledge to construct a framework onto which we, as a society, can build a new way of seeing not only our lives but the world itself.
Newton can be seen as the creator of Data. He invented it and gave it a name. Einstein gave us a theory which, normally used for physics, can be applied also (because physics is everything) to data. In that we can calculate our overall energy or value, by multiplying our data by the speed at which we can consume or generate data. This of course is a loose and completely abstract process but it serves as more of a comprehensive guideline than any applicable scientific system… at least until someone invents it.
So after this sidebar into pubic hair we have a three things to consider.
1. Data is a new way of looking at the world.
2. Two of the greatest scientific minds of the past five hundred years have written the rules on how data works.
3. Our generation consumes data unlike any generation before us and the proof of this is in our pants, or on our bathroom floor.
The question we are left with is how we can use Data to enrich our lives?
Well the answer is personal optimization through consideration of data streams. We can do this on our own or with the assistance of outside contributors. As an example we can use our diet and going to see a doctor, both of which relate to our health. By keeping track of what we eat, when we eat it and how much, we can better understand how our bodies regulate energy output. When we go to visit a doctor, based on data, they make a prognosis and gives advice for the future. Either way, it is though Data, that we enrich our lives.
So now that we understand Data as something other than, ” a set of qualitative or quantitative variables” and how it can be useful we can have that conversation on ethics.
The reason that I am writing this is multifaceted. I have recently come to the conclusion that the world around me is no longer governed by outmoded forms of thought. The human condition still clings to them for guidance but the human cognition no longer requires them to operate. We do not need a concept of God or heaven and hell any longer for society to function. Because we have the realities of physical creation and destruction that paint a much more realistic picture that is as profound as any religious belief. We are made from the same things as the stars (the original gods) and when our biological processes fail we return to the great cosmic drift of untangled limitlessness.
What data represents is that next stage in human cognition. A pathway through the gray matter. A guide for the generation I referenced earlier to follow. This is not only my belief. Ask the Bitcoin users all over the world, ask the professors at M.I.T laying the groundwork for digital economics, ask the Egyptian students who saw the injustice of the world and used their raw data to overthrow a corrupt system of government. Although the comprehension of data and the uses’ for it are in their infancy it is still generating multibillion dollar business like Facebook and Google, whom both deal strictly in data.
So what this post really comes down to, the summation you are surely long over due for, is that the revolution has already happened. There are no bodies in the street and no one fell the Bastille. The same Kings and Queens still sit atop their idiot thrones. The wave crested and crashed and we are living in the post globalized consciousness.
What Data is… really… is proof that we are not alone anymore. We all stand together inside of this one function which measures the breath and pulse of our species. We have gone beyond black and white only to find the infinity of color. Now, unlike anytime before in the annals of human history, the world is in the hands of the masses. The oligarchy is crumbling from the foundation because the average person is the foundation and we have learned to move from beneath the boot.
I am saying that not only is there a way out, but that were already on our way. We have left the Platonic cave and seen he moon. There is no going back into the darkness.