Data Colonialism and the Information Society

Data colonialism is altering society through the generation and collection of personal data.  Surfacing at the start of the twenty-first century, large technology corporations including Google and Facebook represent data colonialism. The aspects of a data-driven society common within data colonialism provide grounds for the establishment of the information society theory. Comprised of both restricted and technical facets, information society theory seeks to understand the vast influence of technology on society, detailing the communication of information through modern mediums such as phones and laptops.

Today, data is valued as a “fundamental form of appropriation in society” (Couldry & Mejias 2019, pp.338) and is often referred to as the “crude oil” (Couldry & Mejias 2019, pp.338) of the twenty-first century. Data colonialism is represented on both a global and communal scale. Large technology enterprises like Google and Facebook spearhead data colonialism today with their collection of data from the devices we use daily. These large corporations inhabit what is known as the “Social Quantification Sector” (Couldry & Mejias 2019, pp.338). The collection of this data creates many inequalities within society, and even establishes grounds for discrimination based on differences in data collected. Data colonialism also challenges the notion of “self as self” (Couldry & Mejias 2019, pp.338), by quantifying every aspect of society, these large corporations alter our ability to engage in honest social relations without basing them on the data points that defines us.

Figure 1: Data Points

In short, information society theory serves to understand the current status of our lives (Wilson, Corey & Kellerman 2013).  Technology is the key component in an information society, it allows information to flow at a more rapid pace, and even allows us to bypass spacial and temporal barriers (Wilson, Corey & Kellerman 2013). Information society theory focuses on the idea of the individual within a society, specifically studying their changes in curiosity and cognition. An information society has a much greater impact on the individual’s curiosity, as technology like the internet provides answers to questions almost instantly. Information society theory examines the specific lifestyle changes individuals inherit as a result of the information they consume through ICT’s, or information communication technologies.

Figure 2: ICT’s

Information Communication Technologies exist to satiate the curiosity of an individual within a society, as well as to appropriate the data derived from these devices. Most important to the concept of ICT’s is their ability to bypass spacial and temporal relations. This is labeled as “a declining of friction of distance” (Wilson, Corey & Kellerman 2013, 83). ICT’s operate on a global scale, influencing society in four specific ways: information society data, devices, access, and culture. Information society data’s origins lay within the unlimited access the individual has to devices, which in turn has an adverse affect on cultural relations. Information communication technologies refer to the devices we use everyday like smart phones and laptops.

Nowadays, everyone has their cell phone with them at all times; mobile phones have become society’s primary mode of communication. The existence of such devices provides tech companies with personal data, consented or not, that they use for profit and commodification. Secondary to the mobile phone is the personal computer or laptop. Wether at work or home, the computer act as a tool central to productivity today, allowing the user to manage multiple tasks at once, and even bypass spatial and temporal barriers. Just like our phones, personal computers are relaying data such as current location and salary to corporations who use it for profit.       

Figure 3: Data Relations

Data colonialism can only be opposed through “decolonial” (Couldry & Mejias 2019) ways of thinking. Data colonialism pulls society away from personal interactions and pushes for the “datafication” (Couldry & Mejias 2019) of all. Practically, there are two actions that will help move society away from data colonialism. First is a denial of the fact that the continuous collection of personal data is natural, let alone rational. From this statement, we derive a stance that claims the irrationality of data processing, allowing society to understand the true intentions of the corporations who manage the flow of data.

Data colonialism and information society theory both find their roots in the contemporary technologies that the individual interacts with on a daily basis. These ICT’s allow the user to bypass temporal and spacial restrictions previously tied to communication of information. Such interactions generate data, which large technology corporations use for profit. In order to challenge these structures, society needs to establish the irrationality of data appropriation. More concretely, data colonialism is turning our social lives into large sets of data, through the use of ICT’s, which in turn are appropriated and used for capital. 

References

Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. A. (2019). Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data’s Relation to the Contemporary Subject. Critical Social Policy20(4), 348–366. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261018317693219

Wilson, M. I., Corey, K. E., & Kellerman, A. (2013). Global Information Society : Technology, Knowledge, and Mobility. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=562330&site=eds-live

Image Attribution: [Public Domain]

Written by Robert Paul Bowell, 2019

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