October 14, 2013
A few weeks ago, I attended the opening dedication of the Jean Rice Homeless Liberation Reference Library in the Fordham area of the Bronx. (I’ve written before about Picture the Homeless [PTH], a grassroots organization of currently and formerly homeless people and allies that does advocacy and data collection, among other campaigns.) By the time I got to the event, someone was just beginning a foot-stomping rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to murmurs of encouragement from the crowd, so I suppose it wasn’t your typical library ribbon-cutting. There was wine and cheese, but there were also references to Simón Bolívar and the “shelter-industrial complex,” and the invitation postcard included quotes from Frederick Douglass (“Once you learn to read you are forever free”) and Malcolm X (“My alma mater was books, a good library”).
I love hearing non-librarians talk about what a library means to them (comment cards were also distributed at the event so that everyone could share their thoughts). One speaker described it as an avenue to read, discuss, and critique books together. Others emphasized the self-education element, with someone declaring that everyone has something to offer and something to teach (“We’re all learning”).
This library is meant to be a resource for people fighting homelessness, a space for self-education and reflection. It will be open midday (lunchtime) for now. The collection is mostly nonfiction with some shelves of fiction, and it’s a mix of reference and circulating books. There are also some materials unique to the library, including scholarship from when PTH members traveled to Colombia and other places. A review committee has been set up to vet book donations.
After the opening speeches, I spoke with PTH member Rogers, who actually used to work in the collection development department at Queens Library back in the ’80s. He told me about the divide at the time between the white librarians and the Creole publisher six blocks from the library, of which the QL staff was unaware despite such materials’ relevance to many library users. His former work at QL, he said, would be “only a shadow” of what he’ll do in the new PTH library.
A former PTH employee (and current library school student) who’s a member of the review committee recently gave me an update on how the homeless library is progressing. The committee is refining the book categories and hammering out a collection development policy. They’re building a catalog on LibraryThing, and book discussions (some with the authors present) are already taking place in the library. If you’re in NYC and want to help out, get in touch—they’re currently in need of more bookshelves, bookends, a stamp or ex libris labels, a cart, and transportation to get larger items into the space.
Some dedication attendees in the library.
October 10, 2013
Eric Hellman, founder of Unglue.it, has a note in the current issue of the New York Law School Review titled, “The eBook Copyright Page is Broken.” It is a quick read, and what I have to say is in response to it, so please read it in order to understand what I am commenting on.
Hellman is active in the area of eBook publishing, exploring new economic models for their distribution, and very interested in how eBooks are changing the conditions of what we call publishing. I support his general project and agree in general terms that the technological foundation of eBooks has implications for the way the book trade works. However, I think that in his note on eBook copyright pages, what Hellman has done is simply to notice the way that copyright pages are broken in general, in terms of print books as well as eBooks.
I am a publisher of print books that have e-versions in most cases, and I sign contracts with authors, contributors, translators, illustrators, designers, and other publishers, contracts that involve the trading of rights under copyright. So, I am familiar with some of the complexities behind copyright and its role in book publishing.
Hellman enumerates seven ways in which he says eBook copyright pages are broken. In almost each case, as I was reading I said to myself, “Well this applies equally to print books, and publishers know this, but the copyright page is not intended to communicate the full picture of rights ownership behind a book.”
Let me address each of Hellman’s discovered problems with eBook copyright pages.
1) “Since there currently are not any copyright formalities, the copyright symbol means nothing. The work is subject to copyright with or without the copyright symbol.”
This rather obviously applies to print as well as eBooks.
2) “The work may also not be subject to copyright, for example, if Eric S. Hellman is a government employee, a robot, or a non-creative compiler of factual information. In these cases there is no copyright even if there is a copyright symbol present. There is no legal duty for a publisher to put a copyright symbol only on a copyrightable work. How is the ebook user supposed to know the true copyright status of a digital work?”
This states that a copyright can be falsely indicated when a work cannot be copyrighted, and also that the copyright status of a work is not required to be stated. I understand this to mean mainly that copyright does not rest on a copyright page, and that is worth pointing out, but again, it is rather obviously true of print books as well as eBooks. (Not all of my points will be quite this obvious.)
3) “Eric S. Hellman” is an uncommon name. But suppose the author is named “John Smith.” What use, then, is the copyright statement? It does not specify which Eric S. Hellman or which John Smith is the author.
This again applies obviously to print books, but furthermore, it is a complaint that can be answered in general terms. The copyright page gives some indication of rights ownership even though it doesn’t not paint the full picture or give a lot of specificity. In terms of identifying the true author, if the author is the copyright holder, normally a person would use other available information to figure out which “John Smith” is indicated. If the copyright page has CIP information from the Library of Congress, then the LoC’s name authority information will be included in the cataloging (normally indicated by a year of birth). Sometimes, finding the identity of the rights holder could take additional work. But it doesn’t follow that the copyright statement, incomplete as it may be, is without value. At a minimum, it indicates whether the author or the publisher owns the copyright (even if, in terms of control of rights, it may provide misleading information given stipulations in a contract about transfers of rights limited to a certain number of years, etc.) So Hellman’s observation is of one of quite a few ways in which the copyright page of a book, regardless of format, leaves something to be desired as a complete statement regarding rights holders. I don’t think this means that the copyright page is “broken,” however; it simply relates to the fact that the copyright page is not intended to be a full statement of rights.
4) “The asserted name of the copyright holder can’t be relied on because text in a digital file can be altered without a trace. It’s simple to take a digital copy of Merchants of Culture and change its asserted copyright holder to “John Smith,” then redistribute it. This is a negligible problem in the print world.
This one is clearly about eBooks and not print books, as Hellman points out specifically in this case. However, what he is pointing out is not merely a problem for the copyright page. It is also a problem for the actual copyright status of an eBook. If an eBook is altered and redistributed, the alterations likely represent a copyrightable creative contribution that is not reflected in the copyright statement. Or is it? Why should we presume that if the book is altered the copyright statement is not also altered? Not to alter the copyright statement would simply mean not finishing the book responsibly and creating a product into which false information has been introduced. This means that the copyright page in this sense is only broken when someone breaks it. And this is only if we accept Hellman’s assumption that we should look at the copyright page as something that is intended to paint the full picture of the copyright status of a book.
5) “The asserted date of publication may be unrelated to the date of the underlying copyright. For purposes of copyright (for example, when a work is produced as a work-for-hire), re-publication of a book does not change the copyright expiration date of the underlying text.”
This is true of print books as well, and it may come as a surprise to some that it can be a problem with first editions of print books, given the time that it takes to bring a work to publication once it is complete. Aside from the fact that normally only the year is given on the copyright page of a book (as opposed to the date, and, why not, the time), it is often the case that a work that is completed in one year does not reach publication until the next. There is, unfortunately, no agreement as to whether the date given on the copyright page represents the date of completion of the work (the copyright date) or the date of publication. Sometimes the copyright page will be clear as to whether one or the other is indicated. At Litwin Books, we like to be specific and state both the year of copyright and the year of publication when the two are different, but most publishers do not do this. And it is something that is not generally considered in the book world. For example, the rules for a book award may state in one place that the book needs to have been published the previous year and in another that it needs to have been copyrighted in the previous year, or where, in considering books for an award, stated copyright dates are taken as evidence of publication dates or vice versa. Unlike some of the other problems with copyright pages that Hellman notes, this one affects people who don’t even have a need to know information about who owns the rights. But it would be mistaken to think that it is a problem that effects eBooks specifically.
6) “There is no specification of the work being copyrighted. In print there’s not much ambiguity, but digital books are composite objects (text and graphics are always separate entities in a digital book file) and are frequently distributed in pieces. Some ebooks even have front matter distributed as a pdf file completely separate from the chapters. In other cases, an ebook may be displayed on a website that has a separate set of copyright statements.”
Hellman is correct to point out that when a print book is pulled apart and no new copyright information is provided about the separate parts of the book, a new problem is introduced. However, there is a related problem that existed already, which is that the simple copyright page never represented the complex status of rights regarding the different parts of a print book. A preface may be a work for hire owned completely by a publisher, and illustrations may be owned by the illustrator (or another publisher) and used under license. That complex state of affairs regarding the rights behind a book is standard, but I have never heard of a publisher attempting to represent it fully on the copyright page of a book (or what would have to be a copyright section if they were to attempt to represent all of the information concerning rights). If a new problem is introduced with eBooks in this regard, it is in the fact that new discrete digital objects are sometimes produced that have no copyright information attached to them.
7) “If the digital book is legally on your ebook reader, then, somehow, the rights holder has granted you some rights, perhaps under the terms of an explicit license or with the license implicit in its availability on a website. Either way, “all rights” have not been reserved. Licenses are not needed for printed books, but they may be needed for ebooks.”
The license agreements between publishers and consumers of information in electronic form are the big area, in my opinion, where the situation regarding the book trade has changed, and which librarians especially need to pay attention to. Where “all rights reserved” appears on a copyright page, presumably it has been placed there prior to a license agreement. Also, we can presume that it refers not really to “all rights” but to “all rights that we own” (since, for example, it is never taken to be denial of first sale doctrine). I think Eric is correct that in an eBook environment, this statement has to be modified in order to most correct, and further I think it is an easy modification to make. It could simply be amended to say, “All rights reserved where not covered by license agreement,” or words to that affect. However, it could also be argued that the statement is intended to apply to the content prior to a license, which is the same as the situation with print books. Publishers grant licenses all the time that allow specific parties, usually other publishers, to make limited use of content controlled by that publisher (e.g. a chapter in a book where the publisher still controls the rights). In that sense, “All rights reserved” indicates that a license is required for a transfer of rights. We often don’t know where such licenses are already in effect. But that is a somewhat technical point, and I will agree that Hellman has identified an issue here.
I think that my main point–that the issues Hellman has raised regarding copyright pages apply to print books as well–is fairly obvious. So, I wonder why these issues seem salient regarding eBooks and not so much to print books? I think the reason is that eBooks are forcing us to pay focused attention to issues of rights that have become unstable and have entered into play in new ways with digital content, and that this focus has inspired Hellman to turn a critical eye to traditional copyright pages. Perhaps we need complete statements of the rights situation surrounding works in a way that we didn’t before eBooks. If that is the case, then I could agree with Hellman that the eBook copyright page is broken, but only in the sense that it does not address a new set of needs. Perhaps Hellman assumes that but doesn’t state it directly. In any case, I think it would not be an entirely correct assumption, because print books and eBooks don’t exist in separate legal spheres, and copyright issues that have recently become salient affect print books today in ways that they didn’t previously, even if the change is related to e-publishing.
October 2, 2013
Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader
Editors: Patrick Keilty and Rebecca Dean
Published: October 2013
Number 4 in the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, Emily Drabinski, series editor
In Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader, Keilty and Dean put the field of Information Studies into critical conversation with studies of gender, sexuality, race, and technology. In classic and original essays, renowned scholars from a range of disciplines think through a broad array of information and technology philosophies and practices. Conceiving of “information” in a broad sense, the contributors reevaluate conventional methods and topics within Information Studies to examine encounters with information phenomena and technology that do not lend themselves easily to the scientific and behaviorist modes of description that have long dominated the field. A Foreword, Introduction, and Afterword provide helpful context to the reader’s 27 essays, arranged around topics that include information as gendered labor, cyborgs and cyberfeminism, online environments, information organization, information extraction and flow, archives, and performance.
Table of Contents
Foreword – Sandy Stone
Introduction – Patrick Keilty
Information as Gendered Labor
The Bride Stripped Bare to Her Data: Information Flow + Digibodies – Mary Flanagan
Essentialism and Care in a Female-Intensive Profession – Melodie Fox and Hope Olson
Reflections on Meaning in Library and Information Studies: A Personal Odyssey through Information, Sexuality, and Gender – Alvin Schrader
Cyborgs and Cyberfeminism
Feminist Theories of Technology – Judy Wajcman
Cyborg Feminism and the Methodology of the Oppressed – Chela Sandoval
Developing a Corporeal Cyberfeminism: Beyond Cyberutopia – Jessica Brophy
Going On-Line: Consuming Pornography in the Digital Era – Zabet Patterson
Avatars and the Visual Culture of Reproduction on the Web – Lisa Nakamura
“OH NO! I’M A NERD!” : Hegemonic Masculinity on an Online Forum – Lori Kendall
How We Construct Subjects: A Feminist Analysis – Hope Olson
Queer Theory and the Creation of Contextual Subject Access Tools for Gay and Lesbian Communities – D. Grant Campbell
Paraphilias: The Perversion of Meaning in the Library of Congress Catalog – Melissa Adler
Administrating Gender – Dean Spade
Information Extraction, Information Flow
On Torture: Abu Ghraib – Jasbir Puar
Tacit Subjects – Carlos Ulises Decena
A Tapestry of Knowledge: Crafting a New Approach to Information Sharing – Sherilyn M. Williams and Pamela McKenzie
Sharing Economies and Value Systems on the Nifty Archive – Mica Ars Hilson
Police / Archives – Steven Maynard
The Brandon Archive – Judith Halberstam
Love and Lubrication in the Archives, or rukus!: A Black Queer Archive for the United Kingdom – Ajamu X, Topher Vampbell, and Mary Stevens
Welcome Home: An Exploratory Ethnography of trhe Information Context at the Lesbian Herstory Archives – Danielle Cooper
Accessing Transgender // Desiring Queer(er?) Archival Logics – K. J. Rawson
In the Archive of Lesbian Feeling: Documentary and Popular Culture – Ann Cvetkovich
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rape Kit – Aliza Shvarts
Joe Orton, Kenneth Halliwell, and the Islington Public Library: Defacement, Parody and Mashups – D. Grant Campbell
Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study – Micha Cárdenas
GRIDs, Gay Bombs, and Viral Aesthetics – Zach Blas
Afterword – Leah Lievrouw
September 29, 2013
In the Sacramento River Delta, just a short drive to the south of where I live, there is an area with some confusion regarding the official geographic information that has been disseminated about it. There are two islands named Ryer Island, and because of some errors in the past, the one that is populated is impossible to find using most geographic information tools. Here is a website about it: ryerisland.com.
Among other things, I think this site could be used in conjunction with an information literacy lesson regarding the reliability of authoritative information resources.
September 26, 2013
Malise Ruthven, frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, wrote the preface to the recent Litwin Books publication, Voltaire’s Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet: A New Translation. His preface is titled Voltaire and Islam, and provides an insightful picture of the great 18th century liberal’s relationship with the religion of the region Europe called “the Orient.”
Voltaire’s play has been translated into English several times, but this prose translation is less archaic-sounding, and captures the intensity of the melodramatic passions among the characters. The play itself is an enjoyable, light read. Ruthven’s preface and the translator’s introduction, which focuses on the reception that the play received among contemporaries and how it was viewed by later critics, illuminate some of the background to the way Islam is understood in the West.
September 25, 2013
September 22, 2013
Library Juice Academy has scheduled a second round of two certificate programs. Both will begin in February.
Certificate in User Experience (UX)
Certificate in XML and RDF-Based Systems
As before, if you enroll in the whole sequence of six courses in advance you get a 10% discount on the registration fee. Institutions registering five or more participants get an additional 10% discount.
It is also possible to take many of the courses in both of these programs without taking the full sequence.
We have found that the level of student engagement and effort varies quite a bit among the people participating. Those who are taking the classes for continuing education units or in order to obtain the certificate are expected to do passing level work in their classes.
Classes are four weeks in length and require about 15 hours of work. The work is done asynchronously, so you can fit it into your schedule or use your personal time. The courses are taught using the Moodle courseware platform, and there are no webinar-style presentations to attend.
Please read our FAQ page for more information. Thanks!
September 17, 2013
Courses in October with Library Juice Academy
Introduction to Project Management
Instructor: Robin Hastings
Introduction to the Semantic Web
Instructor: Robert Chavez
Writing for the Web
Instructors: Nicole Capdarest and Rebecca Blakiston
Instructor: Martin Wallace
Describing Photographs for the Online Catalogue
Instructor: Beth Knazook
Library Outreach to Spanish-Speaking Communities
Instructor: Katie Cunningham
Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction
Instructor: Maria T. Accardi
Considering an Open Source ILS
Instructor: BWS Johnson
Game-Based Learning in Library Instruction
Instructor: Scott Rice
These are an online classes that are taught asynchronously, meaning that participants do the work on their own time as their schedules allow. The classes do not meet together at any particular times, although the instructors may set up optional sychronous chat sessions. Instruction includes readings and assignments in one-week segments. Class participation is in an online forum environment.
You can register through the first week of instruction. The website has a registration function that goes to our credit card payment gateway, which may be used with personal or institutional credit cards. If your institution wants to pay using a purchase order, please contact us to make arrangements. If your fiscal year starts October 1st and you want to pay for the course after that, you can contact us to reserve a space in the class.
More information in our FAQ page.
September 15, 2013
Information Literacy and Social Justice: Radical Professional Praxis
Editors: Shana Higgins and Lua Gregory
Published: September 2013
Information Literacy and Social Justice: Radical Professional Praxis extends the discussion of information literacy and its social justice aspects begun by James Elmborg, Heidi L.M. Jacobs, Cushla Kapitzke, Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbier, and Maura Seale. Chapters address the democratizing values implicit in librarianship’s professional ethics, such as intellectual freedom, social responsibility, and democracy, in relation to the sociopolitical context of information literacy. Contributors, ranging from practicing librarians to scholars of related disciplines, demonstrate how they construct intentional connections between theoretical perspectives and professional advocacy to curriculum and pedagogy. The book contributes to professional discourse on libraries in their social context, through a re-activation of the library neutrality debate, as well as through an investigation of what it means for a global citizen to be information literate in late capitalism.
This book is available through Amazon.com or your library’s book jobbers.
Download a PDF of the front matter, including the title page, copyright page, table of contents, acknowledgments, foreword, and introduction.
August 31, 2013
Voltaire’s Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet:
A New Translation
Translation and Introduction: Hanna Burton
Preface: Malise Ruthven
Published: September 2013
Printed on acid-free paper.
Voltaire’s play Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet was controversial in its own day, and has stirred up controversy in recent decades as attempts to mount stage productions have been met with protests. Originally intended as an oblique criticism of the Catholic Church and religious fanaticism in general (as Voltaire understood it), the play stands today as an entertaining melodrama marked by gleeful irreverance and historical imagination. This new prose translation into English by Hanna Burton brings the text to modern English-speaking audiences. The translator’s extensive introduction sheds light on the history of the work and its reception by Voltaire’s contemporaries.
August 29, 2013
The Chronicle of Higher Education published this succinct editorial by Robert Darnton, noted defender of the book and of libraries, titled, 5 Myths About the “Information Age.” Nicely, this is freely available on the web, not just for people whose institutions have access to the Chronicle. You might know Robert Darnton for his The Case for Books, which was based on a series of essays he did for the New York Review of Books (correct me if my memory is misleading me). This editorial in the Chronicle encapsulates some important points.
August 19, 2013
Annie Downey tught a class for Library Juice Academy recently, titled, Techniques for Creative Problem Solving in Libraries. Next month she will be teaching another one for us: Academia 101: A Crash Course on How Colleges and Universities Work. She did a second interview with me, about the new class being offered in September.
August 16, 2013
Beth Knazook has taught a course in managing digital image collections for Library Juice Academy a couple of times, and we interviewed her about it back in March. Now she is going to teach a follow-up class titled, Describing Photographs for the Online Catalog. Beth holds an MA in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University/George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. She has previously worked as the Curatorial Specialist for Ryerson University Archives & Special Collections and as the Photo Archivist for the Stratford Festival of Canada. She agreed to do another interview with us to give people a good sense of what this new class will cover.
August 15, 2013
Jeremy McGinniss is the Library Director at Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennyslvania. He is the instructor for the Library Juice Academy offered next month on Student Staff Development. Jeremy agreed to an interview to give people more of an idea of the content of this course and his background as the instructor, as well as some of his interests.
August 10, 2013
NSA Data Center — Bluffdale, Utah
In a recent post to this blog, I outlined how the debate regarding the National Security Administration’s data gathering activities pitted privacy against national security and sought to “balance” the two competing values. I suggested that framing the debate in these terms misses the more important concern that the NSA’s data gathering activities are a significant threat to democracy. In what follows, I will explain my concerns.
Although most reporters suggested that Edward Snowden was primarily concerned about the invasion of privacy when he revealed the NSA’s data gathering activities, Snowden himself made it clear that his primary concern was for democracy itself. In an interview about the reasons for his actions, Snowden worried that through his work for the NSA, he was “extend[ing] the capabilities of … [an] architecture of oppression” and that the government unilaterally was “grant[ing] itself powers to create greater control over American society and global society.” Snowden was calling on us to see the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programs more broadly. These programs do not simply pose harms to individuals, they have the potential to transform the character of all political life in the country.
But what is this “architecture of oppression” that Snowden mentions, and how will it “create greater control over American society?” The answers lie in understanding the significance of collecting and accessing Big Data which is really the core of the NSA surveillance activities.
Far from merely poking into the privacy of individuals, Big Data potentially provides its owners with the ability to modify the behavior of individuals and entire demographic groups. The most obvious example of this is the data collected by internet companies like facebook and Google. By collecting information about a person via their voluntarily constructed on line profile or through recording their search behavior, facebook, Google, and other such companies are able to craft advertising messages that are increasingly able to direct our behavior on and off line. To be sure, the algorithms used to customize advertising and search results are not perfect, but one need not succeed in every instance to increase the odds that members of a market segment will be persuaded to make a purchase or view a website. Such is Big Data’s role in commerce – a role that is not especially worrying.
We should be concerned more, however, with the political use of Big Data. In the past, political strategists employed data collected by Boards of Elections. One’s voter registration record usually contained one’s name, address, date of birth, political party affiliation (if any), and the elections in which one voted. From this, campaigns tried to identify likely and unlikely voters as well as sympathetic and unsympathetic voters. Door-to-door campaigns could then be run more effectively. Furthermore, the campaign message could be tailored to specific groups to maximize voter turnout in favor of the candidate and suppress turnout for the opposing candidates.
Now, with the availability of Big Data, a campaign can understand the voting population much better. This data often is available freely on government websites, e.g., the US Census Bureau and the Federal Election Commission. These sites can inform a campaign about the socio-economic status of a precinct, the breakdown of renters versus home owners, an individual voter’s history of campaign contributions, and much more. Conceivably, other Big Data repositories could be made available from the private sector. Knowing which voters purchased SUVs, have health insurance, shop at discount stores, take advantage of “back to school” sales, subscribe to specific magazines, purchased home security systems, or visit certain websites can help identify individuals with specific interests that then could be exploited by the campaign. The candidate who has the most extensive access to these data sources and can hire the data analysts capable of mining the data will have an enormous advantage over candidates who do not.
This style of campaigning is not merely a prospect for the future. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the Obama reelection committee employed Big Data (or at very least a lot of data and very sophisticated data analysis) to contact voters with messages that brought them to the polls in numbers far greater than anyone expected. According to Jonathan Alter the analyses were sophisticated enough to tell the campaign “why placing ads on reruns of The Andy Griffith Show made sense on some cable systems but not on others.” Furthermore, data was collected to test campaign messages and to measure the persuasiveness of particular door-to-door volunteers. The data analysis used by the Obama campaign, however, mostly focused on creating a nation-wide database that linked likely voters, volunteers, and donors in order to make donors of volunteers and volunteers of donors. So in this sense, it was not as sophisticated as it could have been. Still, it was really only the first concerted attempt to run a Big Data campaign. It often has been credited for winning the election, and so it likely will become the model for future political campaigns that will make greater and greater use of data analysis. (For an illuminating account of the Obama campaign’s use of data in 2012, see Jonathan Alter’s recent book The Center Holds.)
But where is the danger to democracy in this? After all, it is still the voters who are deciding the outcomes. Well, the danger arises long before the voters have anything to say about the election.
As campaign data analysis becomes more sophisticated, voters will only be presented with candidates who have access to the largest data sets about the voting population and who have the resources to analyze these sets. All others will be screened out of the electoral process long before any serious campaigning begins. For a campaign to be successful, it will need to have supporters who own important data sets and can provide the technical expertise to exploit them. Such friends cannot come from the working or underprivileged classes. Obama’s digital campaign had a budget of over $25 million dollars and costs for future campaigns surely will be higher. Consequently, the only entities capable of amassing the financial and digital resources will be extremely rich individuals, major corporations, internet companies, and broad industry groups. The ability to affect an election will not be based on the democratic principle of one person – one vote. It will be proportional to the donor’s wealth. Even more so than today, these groups will have effective veto power over who will be a “viable” candidate for state and federal office. If the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United advanced the cause of plutocracy, then the private ownership of Big Data and its use in elections will ensure that plutocrats will be unchallenged in perpetuity.
George Orwell’s 1984 warned that video surveillance might ensure that a political party would one day establish unassailable control over a society. He wrote, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever. There is no way the Party can be overthrown. The rule of the Party is forever. Make that the starting point of your thoughts.” Today’s surveillance technology is not just Orwell’s simple video cameras. It is also the ubiquitous data and metadata harvesting by public and private entities. The NSA is merely one institution that is amassing this data, though it is doing so on an unimaginable scale and with an enormous budget. It currently is constructing a data center in Bluffdale, Utah, containing four 25,000-square-foot halls, filled with servers that will be able to handle yottabytes of information. (A yottabyte is equally to approximately 500 quintillion or 500 x 1018 pages of text.) Meanwhile, the NSA has only the slightest democratic oversight and ominously, it is working in support of a bloated National Security State that defends a plutocratic government. One might be tempted to call it an “architecture of oppression.”
I suspect (hope) that Orwell’s image of the future as a boot stamping on a human face is too extreme, at least for US domestic politics. More likely, if you want a picture of the future, it will not be much different from the present, but it will be less corrigible. We will see a wide disparity of wealth with a large, struggling underclass that is alienated from the benefits of economic progress. These condidtions will be guaranteed by governments that first of all serve the owners and managers of society. The pretense of democracy will survive only in the carefully manipulated elections contested by competing elements within the ruling class, and one of their most important tools for social control will be Big Data.