Welcome to the metadata society — and beware

Adrian Lobe:

Using the accelerometers built into smartphones, Google can tell if someone is cycling, driving or walking. If you click on the algorithmically generated search prediction Google proposes when you type “Merkel”, for instance, the probability increases that the autocomplete mechanism will also display this for other users. The mathematical models produce a new reality. The behaviour of millions of users is conditioned in a continuous feedback loop. Continuous, and controlled.

The Italian philosopher and media theorist, Matteo Pasquinelli, who teaches at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, has put forward the hypothesis that this explosion of data exploitation makes a new form of control possible: A “metadata society”. With metadata, new forms of biopolitical control could be used to establish mass and behavioural control, such as online activities in social media channels or passenger flows in public transport.

“Data,” Pasquinelli writes, “are not numbers, but diagrams of surfaces, new landscapes of knowledge that inaugurated a vertiginous perspective over the world and society as a whole: The eye of the algorithm, or algorithmic vision.”

The accumulation of figures and numbers through the information society has reached a point where they become a space and create a new topology. The metadata society can be understood as an extension of the cybernetic control society, writes Pasquinelli: “Today it is no longer a matter of determining the position of an individual (the data), but of recognising the general trend of the mass (the metadata).”

Deadly deductions