'Find Love in Canada': Distributed Selves, Abstraction and the Problem of Privacy and Autonomy

Authors: Vincent Miller*, University of Kent
Topics: Cyberinfrastructure, Social Theory, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Privacy, Big Data, Abstraction, Ethics, Dematerialisation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper will primarily tackle the problem of privacy and surveillance within contemporary society. I approach the problem of privacy and surveillance as a problem of ethics related to presence: a problem of how we exist in absent presences, as profiles, avatars, databases, bits of text and otherwise, simultaneously in many different virtual and physical locations. I suggest that such presences are not encountered as 'being', but instead as abstract 'data'. Indeed, I argue that contemporary being is subject to five different modes of abstraction (commodification, informatisation, depersonalisation, decontextualisation and dematerialisation), which work to separate information produced by beings, from beings themselves. As data, this virtual matter is conceived of as 'information about' beings as opposed to 'the matter of being' in contemporary environments. I argue that this 'information about' beings carries with it little ethical weight, and thus the handling of personal data is largely freed from any kind of ethical or moral responsibility. This separation encourages the rampant collection of data, the spread of personal information, invasions of privacy, and violations of autonomy. In response propose that we consider expanding the notion of 'self' or 'being' to include the presences we achieve through technology. This means including the virtual presences of profiles, avatars, databases as part of the 'matter of being' or the self. Such a shift would give 'ethical weight' to an otherwise ethically weightless set of mathematical data conceived of purely in instrumental terms by re-establishing and emphasising the link between 'data' and its human origins.

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