Tuesday, March 8, 2016

#68 / The Class Reading For Today: Big Data

Winter Quarter is almost over, and today is the next to last class day in my Winter Quarter course at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I am teaching in the Legal Studies Program, which is located within the Politics Department, which is bureaucratically placed within the Social Sciences Division.

The course I teach is listed as LGST 196, and is titled, "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." The main objective is for the enrolled students to complete a "Capstone Thesis," focusing on some topic related to "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." All the students enrolled in the course are Seniors majoring in Legal Studies. Completing their Capstone Thesis is a prerequisite for graduation. 

Besides writing their theses, students in the course also do a lot of reading. The class reading for today is an article I have mentioned before. The article is by Zeynep Tufekci: "Engineering The Public: Big Data, Surveillance And Computational Politics."

Here is what Tufekci has to say about "computational politics." It's worth thinking about: 

Computational politics turns political communication into an increasingly personalized, private transaction and thus fundamentally reshapes the public sphere, first and foremost by making it less and less public as these approaches can be used to both profile and interact individually with voters outside the public sphere (such a Facebook ad aimed at that particular voter, seen only by her). Overall, the impact is not so much like increasing the power of a magnifying glass as it is like re–purposing the glass by putting two or more together to make fundamentally new tools, like the microscope or the telescope, turning unseen objects into objects of scientific inquiry and manipulation.

"Computational politics," in other words, makes the focus of politics the private and isolated individual, and depreciates, almost to disappearance, the idea that politics is to be carried out in the public sphere. 

Even after having been out of elective office for twenty years, I still self-identify as a "politician," though I am actually working as an attorney and as a University lecturer. 

Here is what my experience in politics has taught me: we are NOT a bunch of isolated individuals! We are in this world (the human world that we create) together

Not isolated. Not alone. Together. Computational politics is to real politics what cancer is to a living organism.

It's a killer!

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