Sunday, May 21, 2006

Out of Many Databases, One

Why? Because it can be done. And because in this time of continuing warfare, our president has promised to do everything that can be done.

Databases surround you. At your bookstore, your discount card records what you buy to read or to share with your friends. Your credit cards record your major purchases. Your bank account keeps track of your income and outgo. Your EZ-Pass card lets you glide through toll plazas quickly as it records your passage. The list of your cellphone calls is for sale. The list of your standard phone calls is for free. Your cellphone company triangulates to see where you are at this moment. Cameras track your public moves. Your existence is noted in dozens of different databases.

All these databases map your life. But still nobody listens to you.

The government, however, has become intensely interested in your map. They are interested in the trail you leave behind and how closely it resembles the trails of others they have caught.

Commercial data warehouses are selling their data about you to the government. Because it can be done, it is being done. But why pay? The government has leaned on telephone companies to stream their data into its waiting arms for free. It has also apparently given them excuse notes allowing them to lie in court. There is no reason NOT to believe that if there is any data out there that the government wants, that data it gets. To keep we data producers un-self-conscious, our tender ears have been spared the facts. Pretend to be natural, everyone.

Beware putting that falafel lunch at Ali Baba's on your credit card. Pay cash when you buy fertilizer. Give the government a map for a life it will ignore. Let it think it understands you.

Of course, it never will understand you. How could a machine understand you? But it thinks it understands you. If only it would listen to you, it would discover that each of us is unique and views the world like no one else, with a view infinitely detailed and infinitely varied. Then it would know it can't understand you.

Because your government thinks it understands you, you must own it. You must make it listen to you.

Machines can know facts, they can compare facts, but they are not very good at establishing the relationships between facts. They cannot understand. Because they cannot understand, they attempt to know more and more, hoping that in finer detail the truth will be clearer and meaning will be found. They fail. Knowledge is about the relationships between facts. Understandings are about the relationships between different areas of knowledge. Humans are good at understanding. Ask us.

Wisdom, which all humans claim as their special skill, is about the relationships between understandings. Until machines contain the billions of parallel processors that the human brain contains, man will be a necessary god.

To keep machines at bay, be the god you are. Sanctify your art, bless your science. Speak from your whole self. Listen with all your attention. See godliness in other people. Then other people, at least, will see it you.

Man sees the world in ways machines never shall. Man must always lead his creation.

One database, many people, an infinitely varied world. Infinite intricacy.


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