Andreas Bernard’s The Triumph of Profiling offers a sociology of the self in the digital age.
In linking modern technologies to their antecedents in early psychology, criminology, and psychiatry, Mr Bernard illuminates how mechanisms once considered instruments of control and repression for select deviants as well as those suffering with poor mental health, have now trickled into the mainstream.
Digital technologies have infiltrated everyday life and have ingrained themselves as central dimensions in our socio-cultural concepts of inclusion, community and individuality.
Through this, we have fallen increasingly subject to pervasive data collection, enabled by tracking apps that run ubiquitously on our mobile phones and fitness wearables.
We now unthinkingly use GPS technology for entertainment, to communicate and to meet potential partners.
Mr Bernard highlights how we have been socialised into desiring devices and applications to analyse and take stock of ourselves, but these same technologies that we adopt in order to manage our behaviour can, perversely, take control and manipulate our actions.
Social content recommendation engines can alter our consumer behaviour through targeted selling, election meddling and political interference on the back of voter-profiling algorithms that can reshape our opinions.
Exploration of the notion of the ‘quantified self’ is even more relevant given the recent release of Netflix’s ‘The Great Hack’.
Andreas Bernard’s book is the perfect complement to this documentary; while one outlines how we got to the place we are today and where this could head, the other provides a stark case example of how democracy itself is threatened when our personal data is harvested by clandestine actors.
Technology left unabated has led us to what Apple CEO Tim Cook has described as a ‘data-industrial complex’ in which our digital data is monetised and traded by data brokers to be ultimately “weaponized against us with military efficiency” without our oversight.
This book acts as a catalyst for greater discourse and public consciousness around data privacy, access and manipulation, and it is a valuable commentary on modern digital life.
Lory Kehoe is managing director of ConsenSys Ireland
Published by Polity Press