How algorithms shape our lives online.
There’s you—the real-life you—and there’s “you” online, as defined by algorithms that track every digital step you take and, depending on the data collected, assign your gender, age, educational level, and more. Few aspects of this “scary and intriguing” situation, as Cheney-Lippold (American Culture and Digital Studies/Univ. of Michigan) quite properly calls it, are overlooked in his debut, a heady and rewarding exploration of our lives in the data age. “Online you are not who you think you are,” he writes. Instead, based on information “observed, recorded, analyzed, and stored” in a database, your life is assigned “categorical meaning,” whether by Google, a government agency, or any number of marketers: you are deemed unreliable, or a celebrity, or whatever, without your knowledge or any regard for who you really are. Thus you are “datafied” into computable data, which is used (by those with the power to do so) to “market, surveil, or control us.” Furthermore, your datafied identity is ever changing, depending on your latest online clicks. “Data holds no significance by itself—it has to be made useful,” writes the author. “We are thus made subject not to our data but to interpretations of that data.” Drawing on the work of a mind-boggling array of specialists, including philosophers, digital theorists, historians, legal scholars, anthropologists, queer theorists, and political scientists, Cheney-Lippold explores how companies and governments use our datafied identities in marketing, predictive policing, and in such matters as race and citizenship. His discussions of privacy in such a world—and of the fact that we are “not individuals online; we are dividuals”—will fascinate and unnerve many. In complex, thoroughly researched chapters, the author explains how this ceaseless interpretation of data by organizations that find it useful for their own purposes is setting the parameters for our present and future lives.
Essential reading for anyone who cares about the internet’s extraordinary impact on each of us and on our society.