This morning I read about an artist called Simon Weckert who did something that made me laugh but also think at the same time. He took 99 Android smartphones, placed them in a little trolley and started to walk the streets of Berlin. Know what happened? It created virtual traffic jams on Google Maps. Even though the streets he was walking on were empty, Google Maps showed them as being clogged with traffic and everyone who was navigating in cars with Google Maps-assistance was automatically re-routed via other streets.
Besides this being pretty hilarious, I feel there is a deeper thing going on here. Mr. Weckert said the following about his art:
Data are viewed as the world itself, forgetting that the numbers are only representing a model of the world.
In my previous blog post The End of the World As We Know It? I wrote about Artificial Intelligence and the fact that we humans seem to have opened Pandora’s box. Google Maps is just one small example of how much we (pretty blindly it seems to me) rely on information presented to us by companies who have made it their business to gather data. The historian, philosopher and author Yuval Noah Harari writes in his brilliant book 21 Lessons For The 21st Century:
At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset – their personal data – in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It is a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in exchange for colourful beads and cheap trinkets. If, later on, ordinary people decide to try and block the flow of data, they might find it increasingly difficult, especially as they might come to rely on network for all their decisions, and even for their healthcare and physical survival.
Mr. Harari describes that we are living in the era of hacking humans. He writes:
The algorithms are watching you right now. They are watching where you go, what you buy, who you meet. Soon they will monitor all your steps, all your breaths, all your heartbeats. They are relying on Big Data and machine learning to get to know you better and better. And once these algorithms know you better than you know yourself, they could control and manipulate you, and you won’t be able to do much about it.
So, the question becomes: how do we survive (and thrive) in this new and unprecedented situation in the world today? Mr. Harari has an interesting answer to this question. He writes:
To survive and flourish in such a world, you will need lots of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and feel at home with the unknown. (…) ‘Who am I?’ will be a more urgent and complicated question than ever before.
I fully agree with Mr. Harari (I’m a huge fan of his writing and talks!) and I’m not the only one. Just the other day I read an article related to emotional balance which is titled: The Ability To Regulate Your Emotions is Quickly Becoming The Premier Skill of The 21st Century. It states:
If you don’t know how to deal with your emotions, life can be overwhelming. Recognizing that you always have a choice in how you respond – no matter how you feel – is at the heart of mastering emotion regulation.
So, it all boils down to awareness again. Because recognizing that you always have a choice in how you respond takes a good amount of awareness. 75 blog posts later (yes, this is my 75th post by the way, how amazing is that?!) and I’m still writing about it…
Regardless of what’s happening in the world, it is my firm belief that raising my awareness is absolute key in not only surviving but also thriving in this world. Awareness about what’s really going on in my life and my feelings about it. Today, I enjoyed the art project of Simon Weckert. I am grateful that he used such a playful way to get me to reflect about how data gathering in the world today affects us humans on a deeper level. I hope it inspired you as well!
Photo: Greg Rakozy – unsplash.com