Ever since, years ago, I coined the expression “McFB way of life” and particularly since my intriguing FB articles (Is there life after Facebook I and II) have been published, I was confronted with numerous requests to clarify the meaning. My usual answer was a contra-question: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
Not pretending to reveal a coherent theory, the following lines are my instructive findings, most of all on the issue why it is time to go home, de-pirate, and search for a silence.
Largely drawing on the works of the grand philosophers of the German Classicism and Dialectic Materialism, it was sociologist Max Weber who was the first – among modern age thinkers – to note that the industrialized world is undergoing a rapid process of rationalization of its state (and other vital societal) institutions. This process – Weber points out – is charac-terized by an increased efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over any ‘threat’ of uncertainty. Hereby, the uncertainty should be understood in relation to the historically unstable precognitive and cognitive human, individual and group, dynamics. A disheartened, cold and calculative over-rationalization might lead to obscurity of irrationality, Weber warns. His famous metaphor of the iron cage or irrationality of rationality refers to his concern that an extremely rationalized (public) institution inevitably alienates itself and turns dehumanized to both, those who staff them and those they serve, with a tiny upper caste of controllers steadily losing touch of reality.
Revisiting, rethinking and rejuvenating Weber’s theory (but also those of Sartre, Heidegger, Lukács, Lefebvre, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Bloch), it was the US sociologist George Ritzer who postulated that the late 20th century institutions are rationalized to a degree that the entire state becomes ‘McDonaldized’, since the principles of the fast food industry have gradually pervaded other segments of society and very aspects of life (The McDonaldization of Society, a controversial and highly inspiring book of popular language, written in 1993).
Thus paraphrased, Ritzer states that (i) McEfficiency is achieved by the systematic elimination of unnecessary time or effort in pursuing an objective. As the economy has to be just-in-time competitively productive, society has to be efficient as well. Corresponding to this mantra, only a society whose forms and contents are governed by business models, whose sociability runs on marketing principles is a successfully optimized polity. Premium efficiency in the workplace (or over broader aspects of sociableness) is attainable by introducing F.W. Taylor’s and H. Ford’s assembly line into human resources and their intellectual activity (sort of intellectual assembly line). Even an average daily exposure to the so-called news and headlines serves an instructive and directional rather than any informational and exploratory purpose. Hence, McEfficiency solidifies the system, protecting its karma and dharma from any spontaneity, digression, unnecessary questioning and experimenting or surprise.
(ii) McCalculability is an attempt to measure quality in terms of quantity, whereby quality becomes secondary, if at all a concern. The IT sector, along with the search engines and cyber -social clubs, has considerably contributed to the growing emphasis on calculability. Not only the fast food chains (1 billion meals, everybody-served-in-a-minute), Google, Facebook, TV Reality Shows, and the like, as well as the universities, hospitals, travel agencies – all operate on a nearly fetishised and worshiped ‘most voted’, ‘frequently visited’,‘most popular’, a big is beautiful, matrix. It is a calculability which mystically assures us that the BigMac is always the best meal – given its quantity; that the best reader is always a bestseller book; and that the best song is a tune with the most clicks on YouTube. One of the most wanted air carriers, AirAsia, has a slogan: Everyone can fly now. In the world where everyone is armed with mobile-launcher gadgets powered by the micro-touch, soft-screen & scream tech to add to the noisy cacophony – amount, size, frequency, length and volume is all what matters. Thus, a number, a pure digit becomes the (Burger) king. Long Yahoo, the king! Many of my students admitted to me that Google for them is more than a search engine; that actually googalization is a well-domesticated method, which considerably and frequently replaces the cognitive selection when preparing their assignments and exams. Ergo, instead of complementing, this k(l)icky-Wiki-picky method increasingly substitutes the process of human reasoning.
(iii) McPredictability is the key factor of the rationalized McDonalds process. On the broader scale, a rational (rationally optimized) society is one in which people know well beforehand what (and when) to expect. Hence, fast food is always mediocre – it never tastes very bad or very good. The parameter of McFood is therefore a surprise-less world in which equally both disappointment and delight are considerably absent. McMeals will always blend uniform preparation and contents, as well as the standardized serving staff outfit and their customized approach. In the end, it is not about food at all. What makes McDonalds so durably popular is a size, numbers and predictability. (All three are proportionately and causally objectivized and optimized: a meal, who serves it and those served – until the locality and substance of each of the three becomes fluid, obsolete and irrelevant. And what would symbolize this relativization and /self-/trivialization better than a clown – well-known mascot Ronald of McDonaldland). In such an atmosphere of predictability or better to say predictive seduction and gradual loss of integrity, the culture of tacit obedience (ignorance of self-irrelevance through the corrosive addiction) is breeding, even unspotted. Consequently, more similarities than differences is the central to a question of predictability, on both ends: demand (expectation, possibility) and supply (determination, probability). No wonder that even the Pirates offer just a routinized protests under only one simplified and uniformed, ‘anonymous’ mask for all.
(iv) McControl represents the fourth and final Weberian aspect for Ritzer. Traditionally (ever since the age of cognitivity), humans are the most unpredictable element, a variable for the rationalized, bureaucratic systems, so it is an imperative for the McOrganization to (pacify through) control. Nowadays, technology offers a variety of palliatives and tools for the effective control of both employers (supply, probability) and customers (demand, possibility), as well as to control the controllers. A self-articulation, indigenous opinionation, spontaneous initiative and unconstrained action is rather simulated, yet stimulated very seldom. Only once the wide spectrum of possibilities is quietly narrowed down, a limited field of probabilities will appear so large. To this end, the IT appliances are very convenient (cheap, discreet and invisible, but omnipresent and highly accurate) as they compute, pre-decide, channel and filter moves, as well as they store and analyze behavior patterns with their heartless algorithms. (The ongoing SOPA, PIPA and ACTA fuss or any other rendering stringent regulative in future does not constitute, but only confirms and supplements its very cyber nature.)
Aided by the instruments of efficiency, calculability and predictability, the control eliminates (the premium or at least minimizes any serious impact of) authenticity, autonomous thinking and independent (non-consumerist) judgment. Depth and frequency of critical insights and of unpredictable human actions driven by unexpected conclusions is rationalized to a beforehand calculable, and therefore tolerable few. Hyper-rationalized, frigid-exercised, ultra-efficient, predictable and controlled environment subscribes also a full coherence to the socio-asymmetric and dysfunctional-emphatic atmosphere of disaffected but ultimately obedient subjects (‘guided without force’, ‘prompted without aim’, “poked, tweeted & fleshmobbed for ‘fun”, ‘useful idiots’, ‘fitting the social machine without friction’). Hence, what is welcomed is not an engagement, but compliance: a self-actualization through exploration challenges while consumerism confirms – status quo. Veneration of nullity!
Ergo, the final McSociety product is a highly efficient, predictable, computed, standardized, typified, instant, unison, routinized, addictive, imitative and controlled environment which is – paradoxically enough – mystified through the worshiping glorification (of scale). Subjects of such a society are fetishising the system and trivializing their own contents – smooth and nearly unnoticed trade-off. When aided by the IT in a mass, unselectively frequent and severe use within the scenery of huge shopping malls (enveloped by a consumerist fever and spiced up by an ever larger cyber-neurosis, disillusional and psychosomatic disorders, and functional illiteracy of misinformed, undereducated, cyber-autistic and egotistic under-aged and hardly-aged individuals – all caused by the constant (in)flow of clusters of addictive alerts on diver-ting banalities), it is an environment which epitomizes what I coined as the McFB way of life.
This is a cyber–iron cage habitat: a shiny but directional and instrumented, egotistic and autistic, cold and brutal place; incapable of vision, empathy, initiative or action. It only accelerates our disconnection with a selfhood and the rest. If and while so, is there any difference between Gulag and Goo(g)lag – as both being prisons of free mind? Contrary to the established rhetoric; courage, solidarity, vision and initiative were far more monitored, restricted, stigmatized and prosecuted than enhanced, supported and promoted throughout the human history – as they’ve been traditionally perceived like a threat to the inaugurated order, a challenge to the functioning status quo, defiant to the dogmatic conscripts of admitted, permissible, advertized, routinized, recognized and prescribed social conduct.
Elaborating on a well known argument of ‘defensive modernization’ of Fukuyama, it is to state that throughout the entire human history a technological drive was aimed to satisfy the security (and control) objective; and it was rarely (if at all) driven by a desire to (enlarge the variable and to) ease human existence or to enhance human emancipation and liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless operationalized by the system, both intellectualism (human autonomy, mastery and purpose), and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.
Consequently, all cyber-social networks and related search engines are far away from what they are portrayed to be: a decentralized but unified intelligence, attracted by gravity of quality rather than navigated by force of a specific locality. In fact, they primarily serve the predictability, efficiency, calculability and control purpose, and only then they serve everything else – as to be e.g. user-friendly and en mass service attractive. To observe the new corrosive dynamics of social phenomenology between manipulative fetishisation (probability) and self-trivialization (possibility), the cyber-social platforms – these dustbins of human empathy in the muddy suburbs of consciousness – are particularly interesting.
Facebook itself is a perfect example of how to utilize (to simulate, instead of to stimulate and empathically live) human contents. Its toolkit offers efficient, rationalized, predictable, clean, transparent, and most intriguing of all, very user-friendly convenient reduction of all possible relations between two individuals: ‘friend’, ‘no-friend’. It sets a universally popular language, so standardized and uncomplicated that even any anonymous machine can understand it – a binary code: ‘1’ (friend) ‘0’ (no-friend), or eventually ‘1’ (brother/sister), ‘1/0’ (friend), ‘0’ no-friend – just two digits to feed precise algorithmic calculations. Remember, number is the king. Gott ist tot, dear Nietzsche – so are men.
Be it occupied or besieged, McDonalds will keep up its menu. Instead, we should finally occupy ourselves by de-pirating enormous tweet/mob noise pollution in and all around us. It is a high time to replace the dis-conceptual flux on streets for a silent reflection at home.
Sorry Garcin, hell is not other people. Hell are we!!
In his emotionally charged speech of December 2011, President Obama openly warned the US citizens: “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists (…) the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century (…) Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One per cent! (…) The free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can…”
(The Oswatomie High School, Kansas, 06 December 2011, the While House Press Release).
Two months before that speech, the highly respected, politically balanced and bipartisan Budget Office of the US Congress (CBO) released its own study “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income between 1979 and 2007” (October 2011). The CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by: 275% for the top 1% of the US households, 65% increase for the next 19% of households, less than a 40% increase for the following segment of households of the next 60%, and finally only an 18% income increase for the bottom of 20% of the US households. If we consider an inflation for the examined period of nearly 30 years, then the nominal growth would turn to a negative increase in real incomes for almost 80% of the US households; a single digit real income increase for the upper 19% of households; and still a three-digit income growth for the top 1% of population.
According to the available internet search engine counters, this CBO study has been retrieved 74,000 times since posted some 3 months ago. For the sake of comparison, an average clip of great-granddaughter of ultra-rich, billionaire Conrad Hilton is clicked on YouTube over 31 million times. Roughly 3 million Americans would represent the top 1% of its population. Who are other 99% – pardon, 28 million individuals – interested in trivial clip/s (with obscure but explicit lines: They can’t do this to me, I’m rich) of Miss Paris?
Remember what I asked at the beginning of this article: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
* This is the so-called FB3 article (Is there life after Facebook? III – the Cyber Goo(g)lag Revelations). Its early version was first published by the US Journal of Foreign Relations /12 January 2012/.
1. Weber, M. (1951), Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Grundriss der verstehenden Sociologie (Economy and Society), Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck)
2. Ritzer, G. (1993), The McDonaldization of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
3. Zappa, F.V. (1989), The Real Frank Zappa Book, Touchstone (1999 Edition)
4. Schlitz, M. (1998), On consciousness, causation and evolution, Journal of Parapsychology (61: 185-96)
5. Fukuyama, F. (2002), Our Posthuman Future – Consequences of the Biotech Revolution, Profile Books, London (page: 126/232)
6. Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Environmental Ethics – Four Societal Normative Orders, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria
7. Mumford, L. (1967), Technics and Human Development – Myth of the Machine (Vol. 1), Mariner Books (Ed. 1971)
8. McTaggart, L. (2001), The Field, HarperCollins Publishers
How to Design Responsible Technology
Biased algorithms and noninclusive data sets are contributing to a growing ‘techlash’ around the world. Today, the World Economic Forum, the international organisation for public-private cooperation has released a new approach to help governments and businesses counter these growing societal risks.
The Responsible Use of Technology report provides a step-by-step framework for companies and governments to pin point where and how they can integrate ethics and human rights-based approaches into innovation. Key questions and actions guide organizations through each phase of a technology’s development process and highlight what can be done and when to help organizations mitigate unethical practices. Notably, the framework can be applied on technology in the ‘final’ use and application phase, empowering users to play an active role in advocating for policies, laws and regulations that address societal risks.
The guide was co-designed by industry leaders from civil society, international organizations and businesses including BSR, the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, IDEO, Deloitte, Omidyar Network and Workday. The team examined national technology strategies, international business programmes and ethical task forces from around the world, combining lessons learned with local expertise to develop a guide that would be inclusive across different cultures.
“Numerous government and large technology companies around the world have announced strategies for managing emerging technologies,” said Pablo Quintanilla, Fellow at the World Economic Forum, and Director in the Office of Innovation, Salesforce. “This project presents an opportunity for companies, national governments, civil society organizations, and consumers to teach and to learn from each other how to better build and deploy ethically-sound technology. Having an inclusive vision requires collaboration across all global stakeholders.”
“We need to apply ethics and human rights-based approaches to every phase in the lifecycle of technology – from design and development by technology companies through to the end use and application by companies across a range of industries,” said Hannah Darnton, Programme Manager, BSR. “Through this paper, we hope to advance the conversation of distributed responsibility and appropriate action across the whole value chain of actors.”
“Here, we can draw from lessons learned from companies’ efforts to implement ‘privacy and security by design,” said Sabrina Ross, Global Head of Marketplace Policy, Uber. “Operationalizing responsible design requires leveraging a shared framework and building it into the right parts of each company’s process, culture and commitments. At Uber, we’ve baked five principles into our product development process so that our marketplace design remains consistent with and accountable to these principles.”
This report is part of the World Economic Forum’s Responsible Development, Deployment and Use of Technology project. It is the first in a series tackling the topic of technology governance. It will help inform the key themes at the Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit in San Francisco in April 2020. The project team will work across industries to produce a more detailed suite of implementation tools for organizations to help companies promote and train their own ‘ethical champions’. The steering committee now in place will codesign the next steps with the project team, building on the input already received from global stakeholders in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.
The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network brings together more than 100 governments, businesses, start-ups, international organizations, members of civil society and world-renown experts to co-design and pilot innovative approaches to the policy and governance of technology. Teams in Colombia, China, India, Israel, Japan, UAE and US are creating human-centred and agile policies to be piloted by policy-makers and legislators, shaping the future of emerging technology in ways that maximize their benefits and minimize their risks. More than 40 projects are in progress across six areas: artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, blockchain, data policy, drones and the internet of things.
The Network helped Rwanda write the world’s first agile aviation regulation for drones and is scaling this up throughout Africa and Asia. It also developed actionable governance toolkits for corporate executives on blockchain and artificial intelligence, co-designed the first-ever Industrial IoT (IIoT) Safety and Security Protocol and created a personal data policy framework with the UAE.
Digitally shaping a greener world
Women were not allowed on map-making ship voyages until the 1960s—it was believed that they would bring bad luck. Spanish nuns made maps in the 10th century.
The first A-Z street map of London was created after one woman got lost on her way home from a party, then woke up every day at 5 a.m. to chart the city’s 23,000 streets.
As it turns out, women have always contributed to the drawing of maps despite hurdles.
This puts Molly Burhans, founder of GoodLands, in good company. For the first time in history, she is setting out to digitally map the land assets of one of the world’s largest land-owners—the Catholic Church.
The journey has been spiritual. Instead of becoming a nun, she decided to pursue digital mapping instead. “Our work is grounded in science, driven by design and inspired by values of stewardship and charity,” she explains.
It all started when a course in biological illustration turned into a fascination with how everything fits together.
“You can’t do surgery unless you’ve studied human anatomy—and you can’t really do sound environmental work unless you’ve mapped the environment and landscape, and can visualize it,” she explains.
She was introduced to digital mapping by Dana Tomlin, the originator or Map Algebra and Geographic Information Systems professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. When she visited the Vatican in 2016, it got her thinking.
“The Vatican has the most fantastic maps I’ve ever seen,” she said. “White, gold, platinum frescoes flanked the doors. I thought they must have the most incredible land datasets anywhere in the world.”
The Vatican is the smallest state in the world, and its biggest land owner. There are 250,000 Catholic-affiliated parishes, orphanages, community centers and retreat monasteries around the world, reaching an estimated 57.6 million people globally.
It is also the world’s largest non-government health care provider. The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care workers estimates that around 26 per cent of healthcare facilities are operated by the Roman Catholic Church.
Iyad Abumoghli, Principal Coordinator of UN Environment Programme’s Faith for Earth Initiative, said:
“Globally, faith-based organizations own 8 per cent of habitable land on the surface of the earth and 5 per cent of all commercial forests. There are around 37 million churches and 3.6 million mosques around the world.
“Burhans’ work supports UNEP’s Faith for Earth Initiative to harness the socio-economic power of faith-based organizations, where preaching meets practice.
“Mapping faith-owned assets will contribute to strategically employ faith values in managing them, ultimately leading to fighting climate change and curbing ecosystem degradation.”
Fear of the unknown
Burhans reflects: “Why not leverage this network for environmental good?”
But then the hurdle hit. The data wasn’t digital. In fact—it wasn’t even there.
“None of the land had been digitally mapped. I was surprised – this was bigger than I’d realized. We can’t manage property without foundational data—never mind ecosystem restoration. So, I just kept going to find the data.”
When she confirmed that data did not exist, Burhans asked the Holy See for permission to create the first comprehensive global digital data map of the Catholic Church’s footprint and people in history, working with a large team at mapping software company Esri, as Chief Cartographer.
Her mission: to help faith-based communities, such as religious orders, dioceses, and the Vatican to first understand what land assets they own. Next, figure out how to leverage those assets for ecosystem restoration on a scale parallel to its massive global health network.
The power of knowing
For Burhans, maps represent the power to shape our world for better health and environmental protection. “We dare to use land for environmental good. I can’t emphasize how important our surroundings and environment are,” she notes.
“Maps are just the tool, allowing us to capture complex information, from biodiversity to soil type, all in one place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a map is worth a million.”
“We can map where ecological failure might trigger heavy migration. Or, where sea level rise might force poor communities to move. We can see where more trees could cool hot cities; where green spaces could bring health benefits in areas with high respiratory problems.”
For Burhans, the potential of a large data hub capturing all this information across the church’s land portfolio is exciting—and unprecedented. It also has implications for all land owners and governments around the world.
Her team maps environmental, social and financial factors of a property portfolio. Centralizing information in one digital hub across sectors—health care, education, relief—could save tens of millions each year, she reflects.
She is also asking bigger questions: “How will artificial intelligence transform our world? How can we leverage land and religion to become the solution to our crises? We must be at the forefront of these issues.”
Mapping the church’s global footprint
Honing big data for environmental restoration is part of Burhans’ vision. Some of this is technical: bringing the Catholic Church into the digital area: “With relevancy, with the right information to roll out safety.”
But the vision is also about people. “We want to help people realize that mapping assets is vital to manage them responsibly. We cannot help the church improve its footprint if we don’t know what is has.”
“We all have different talents and gifts. Mine lean towards creating new technology and applying it to make land work for the greater good. That’s my vocation: to make sure that’s done—and done with integrity.”
Five New Technologies that Can Prevent Everything from Fraud to Future Financial Shocks
A new white paper, The Next Generation of Data Sharing in Financial Services, from the World Economic Forum has identified new technologies that banks and other financial institutions can implement for privacy-protected data-sharing between institutions. This data-sharing will enable broad analysis, which can be used to identify industry-wide risks and could even prevent future financial shocks.
Beyond system-wide benefits, these newly identified technologies, coined “privacy-enhancing techniques” can also use improved data-sharing to prevent fraud, offer financial advice, and much more. Privacy-enhancing techniques lessen the tensions underlying data-sharing. Instead of threatening customer privacy, this new wave of technology not only protects it but also enhances industry collaboration.
These five technologies include:
While new and novel for use in financial services, these technologies have existed within laboratories for years and are now ready for use in the real world of banking and other financial services. If harnessed, these tools could usher in a new, more collaborative, era of the sector on matters related to risk and product development.
“With advancing privacy-enhancing technologies, financial services have the ability to work more closely together on a range of important challenges and opportunities, from combating illicit financial transactions to identifying material risk exposures across institutions, to developing more personalized financial advice and products,” says Matthew Blake, Head of Financial and Monetary System Initiatives, World Economic Forum. “Privacy-enhancing techniques open a range of possibilities for enhanced risk management and financial innovation with benefits for customers, regulators and financial institutions alike.”
These technologies, used separately or in conjunction, greatly reduce the risks associated with data sharing and have the potential to fundamentally redefine the dynamics of data sharing in financial services. Opportunities from these technologies include the ability to:
· Better detect and prevent fraudulent activity: Federated analysis could be used to create shared fraud detection and prevention models across institutions without sharing the personally sensitive information about specific customers
· Identify system-wide risks and prevent financial crises: Secure multi-party computation could be used to conduct aggregate analysis on financial institutions’ risk exposures without breaching their institutional competitive secrets, allowing for an advance warning on systemic risks and exposures such as those that led to the 2008 financial crisis
· Enable new forms of personalized digital advice: Leveraging differential privacy in the analysis of transactions across an institution’s customer base could enable sophisticated and specific “people like you” recommendations without exposing individual customers’ spending habits
· And more, as explored in The Next Generation of Data Sharing in Financial Services
One of the key learnings from the financial crisis was that system-wide risk exposures were not properly quantified and understood by enterprises as well as financial supervisors. This was partly due to inadequate management information systems that did a poor job of aggregating risk exposures across institutions as well as too narrow a focus by supervisors on the risk of individual financial firms rather than the interconnections between institutions and the broader system.
Competitive dynamics also played a part; it is perilous for a financial institution to make explicit its risk exposures because other actors may take advantage and profit from that level of transparency. Enter privacy-enhancing techniques, which make sharing granular information across institutions possible – allowing for transparency without unveiling too much, presenting new possibilities for collaboration between institutions, supervisors and customers.
“It is important to note that these technologies are not a magic wand. Using them requires financial institutions to address surrounding issues such as poor data quality, legal uncertainties and siloed data infrastructures,” says Bob Contri, Principal, Deloitte United States; Global Financial Services Industry Leader. “However, addressing these roadblocks and using privacy-enhancing techniques can propel the financial services industry into a new era of collaboration and value delivery.”
According to the World Economic Forum, financial services executives should take a concerted look at these new techniques and where they might best be deployed. Bringing these technologies into practice will require a degree of experimentation and technological expertise. Nonetheless, the benefits of widescale adoption are clear and speak to greater alignment and action among key stakeholders on issues of systemic importance.
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