Big Data

All posts tagged Big Data

While perusing the web for valid sources for my individual research, I came across a paper by Peter Marks titled Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies. This paper focuses on the way surveillance plays a role in dystopian literature, specifically how it presents itself in utopias. He talks about the origination of surveillance in utopias, by examining Thomas Moore’s Utopia. Here, he states, “nothing is private or exclusive, … there are no hiding places outside the home, no spots for secret meetings, and … inhabitants live in full view of each other.” This description comes from Moore’s Utopia, but is reminiscent of literature that capitalizes on “surveillance societies”, as Marks calls them. In his paper, he argues for the large concern for surveillance in utopian literature. In the beginning of the article, he also talks about the power of 1984 in influencing readers’ and society’s view on the surveillance society. He also points to Stanley Cohen, who published on the importance of surveillance as a means of social control in dystopian/utopian literature. He then connects this to Darko Suvin’s idea of cognitive estrangement; he says that these utopian worlds in literature present us with alternative worlds, that catalyze new and creative thought, and in this case specifically on surveillance in our own societies.

My paper focuses on the use of Big Data in dystopias to facilitate oppression, and the most common way it is used is in surveillance. Marks’s paper was useful in addressing this issue because he creates the argument for a common “surveillance society”, in which I can use to identify them in the novels that I am examining. I can then recognize how Big Data is being used in the methods of surveillance in each novel. This then is related back to its usage in our own society, pointing out the possible abuses through the creation of an alternate society, AKA cognitive estrangement. I found the introduction and the section titled “A Case for and Against Utopias” most useful, as this is where Marks makes his general case before analyzing this trend/theme in specific TV shows and books.

This paper will be useful in other projects as well, especially those that focus on technology and oppression. During our conference presentation, I heard many themes associated with oppressive rule, whether it be through surveillance or other means of restriction. This source is worth using, since it links many ideas in the study of dystopian literature to the issue of surveillance. Because of the way Marks refers to well-known scholars in this field, his paper can point you to further readings on similar topics in Dystopian literature.


Works Cited:

Marks, Peter. “Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies”. Surveillance & Society,       Vol. 3 No. 2/3, pp. 222-239.

In class, when were were learning about panoptical security and their applications in dystopias, we went over Foucault’s theory of the “plague town”. This was a town where the plague was present, so everyone had to be monitored very closely so that no one would die. In this setting, the town was a model of a dystopian society. For my research on how our present technology is capable to form dystopia, I wanted more background on technology involved with surveillance. I first had to understand what the definition of surveillance was. I found a source from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which focused on public health surveillance. “The Evolution of Surveillance” by William Halperin is a short article about the current state of health surveillance, and the capabilities that the health community wishes to have.

A brief summary

In the 1970s with the passage of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), health was only surveilled in the country through physician reporting. Today, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), and other entities, surveillance has evolved.

You’re being surveilled when you go to the doctor!

William talks about the origins of health surveillance, which began when a surveillance system design by Bill Foege eradicated the last clusters of smallpox. Today, health surveillance also involves preventing diseases rather than just controlling spread, injuries, disease hazards, interventions for preventing disease, and more. Basically, health surveillance has become more powerful.

For example, OSHA tests for blood lead on behest of physicians looking for patients. Even though there’s no present rationale behind the data collection, OSHA is still collecting the information. The health community continues to look to improve their data collection methods and strategies to make the “neurological system of public health” as vigilant as possible

At the airport in Hong Kong, you must pass health checkpoints.

Organization and Rhetorical Strategies

This article starts by talking of the origins and definition of public health surveillance. Giving the reader some background helps with understanding. It then summarizes how the surveillance has evolved over time, examples of it, and what is to come in the future. It mainly uses logos and ethos throughout the journal, as it is a health journal.

Key terms and theories, and why they are important

The key ideas that I got from this article were that surveillance is “the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health related data with the a priori purpose of preventing or controlling disease or injury, or of identifying unusual events of public health importance.”

In a dystopian society, crime, any disobedience, is considered and treated like a disease. It’s shunned, undesirable, and we try to get rid of it. When William talks about a Neurological System, he’s talking about a sort of autonomous intelligent system that manages itself. Any system, given a feedback loop, can sustain itself. Surveillance is a method for a feedback loop so the public can remain healthy. A key defining feature of a utopian or a dystopian society is that the state stays the same. Therefore, surveillance is crucial in a dystopian society, as it allows a state to remain static.

In this article, William talks about how surveillance is evolving. We collect data even if we aren’t sure of it’s rationale, but we collect it just in case the data becomes useful. He says,

“Surveillance in practice is an evolving quilt or tapestry of many methods of data collection,“

To increase surveillance, you just need to collect more data. William warns however that “collection of data without analysis or use is not surveillance.” This provoked me and made me think about what surveillance in our present society use actually surveillance, or just unnecessary extra data collection.

Halperin, William. “The Evolution of Surveillance.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine, vol. 56, no. 6, June 2013, pp. 613–614. EBSCO, doi:10.1002/ajim.22193. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.

Data: the driving force for knowledge, the evidence behind scientific theory, and the basis of tracking your existence. The collection of large amounts data is not a new concept, but recently in the 2010’s, the presence of “Big Data” has far exceeded the capacity it once held in its early days. As you log onto the web, websites record your digital footprint. The likelihood that this specific data will be used and analyzed is slim, but the potential it holds for companies and institutions to reconstruct your persona through this data is unprecedented.

The four V’s of Big Data: an infographic by IBM

The fear that new technological phenomena will begin to cross the line between innovation and oppression is reflected in modern YA dystopian literature. In my paper, titled Big Data and Its facilitation of oppression: In Their Dystopia and Ours, I will discuss the way Big Data appears in YA dystopian literature, and how it’s reflective of current and prospective Big Data usage in our own society. One such fictional Dystopia that relies heavily on Big Data collection is that in Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. The Department of Homeland security strengthens its already close watch on its citizens through increased surveillance; students are tracked with library books and gait recognition, average citizens with their cars, and the entire population with surveillance cameras. All these devices collect location data, and send them to the DHS. These means would be illegal to implement in our own society (besides the surveillance cameras- those are everywhere), but there is a much easier way to know everything about anything, especially since this data is willingly given to the public. We are readily giving up information about ourselves as we shop, browse, tweet, pin, and post all over the World Wide Web.

The use of Big Data presents itself in a different, but equally unsettling way in Ally Condie’s Matched. At the age of 17, everyone is given a match, the person that will be their future spouse and life partner. A choice does not exist, given that the government possess data about a child’s genetic information, interests, and temperament and can make the “best” decision through data analytics and algorithms.  As I will point out in my presentation, something similar exists in our society, but with a little more deliberate choice: online dating profiles. The use of these sights can be harmless, even useful to those who seemed to have exhausted every other mean to find love. However, imagine this taken too far; government owned profiles on ordinary citizens, where new data is added at exponential rates until the it may seem to resemble that of a serial killer, or even a terrorist, tying back into the Big Data usage in Little Brother. The millions of terabytes of data that exists publicly and privately is more than corporate and governmental institutions know how to deal with, but as processing power and analytics continue their exponential growth in the digital revolution, we may soon find ourselves with less privacy and a new “Big Brother”.


infographic –

The human being is a rational entity, running off the presence of order and structure. This is reflected on every society that we construct, whether in literature or in actuality. Specifically looking at dystopias, the complex division (or lack thereof) of power is central to its ability to control and manipulate its constituents. The role that each part of the governing body plays seems to always be facilitated by some means – usually technology.

In Matched, by Allie Condie, the government has attempted to eliminate all sources of uncertainly and disorder – down to each person’s time of death. Had anyone seen anything remotely condoning of rebellion, they are instructed to take a memory erasing pill. They have anxiety medication at their disposal. They are told where to live, what to work, and who to love. This, of course, is all made possible by the progression of technology, in surveillance and in medicine. Cassia, the curious but naïve protagonist, find herself being watched more than the others when she falls in love out of script; infractions for holding hands in a “secluded” mountain, and shrinking meal portions as punishment. While the surveillance that goes on in Matched is very direct (government supervised dates!), that that happens in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is done more remotely. Every keystroke, every step, and every place visited is logged by the DHS in attempt to keep a tight chokehold on its citizens for “safety”. Gait recognition, internet spies, and classroom cameras are all made possible by the speedy progress that technology has undergone.

It’s interesting to think of alternative outcomes of these stories had the technology not been there. For one, Marcus and the X-netters could not have defeated the DHS without their hack-savvy techniques.; however, the excessive surveillance would have never been possible without it. In Matched, the disposability of these different “pills” facilitates the mental control that the Officials have on the people. This created an entirely different dynamic than the one that exists in Little Brother, since digital technology doesn’t hold as big of a role for the “people” party in Matched.

Technology and its ability to facilitate oppression and control is unquestionable; ethical fears of privacy and control are huge barriers to such progress in our current society. But for the fictional worlds that authors have created for us (perhaps in warning?), the potential that technology holds for this kind of future is frightening. The physical technology that is used in YA dystopias is not far off from what is currently feasible. My research interest lies in the realm of technology’s role in oppression in YA dystopian novels, and how these roles cross with what is currently happening today with the collection of Big Data, the internet, and public surveillance.

BIG DATA: an introduction by IBM


Works cited

  1. Allen, Justin. “ Little Brother Is Watching You · Corporate America Leverages Telematics.”Forwardslash /, 21 Feb. 2015,  brother-        watching-you/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.
  2. Big Data.” IBM Big Data – What Is Big Data – United States, 14 Nov. 2016, Accessed 19 Feb. 2017
  3. Condie, Ally. Matched. Penguin Group, 2010.
  1. Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tor, 2008.