Cyborg action is increasingly instrumental to machinic ends. Machine to machine (M2M) technology creates discourses and practices that both affect cyborgs and are apart from them.
From a machinic perspective, NSA data surveillance for example, becomes a compelling project. The data practically cries out for organization and relational analysis. It’s like European farmers encountering N American prairies for the first time.
The first would-be European settlers encountering this immense, treeless expanse, hesitated. Then, the early-adopters realized just how rich the soil was. As word spread, the European farmers flooded in. Then in 1833 John Deere’s self-scouring steel bladed plow enabled a less back breaking way to bust the deep sod. The pace of settlement cascaded.
Even as Big Data consumes every bit of cyborg communication it can, it needs more. It needs a pervasively sensorized/coded environment. Sparse Data (state information from non-IT devices) is the data from these proliferating sensors. They produce data only when necessary for the specific function of their host machine.
From a machinic perspective, the development of M2M technology introduces a reverse instrumentality. Technology continues to serve cyborg ends, but cyborgs also become data factories for machines. Technology has begun to have as its end its own growth and evolution as much as whatever human function it may nominally have.
It is not though the mere existence of the technology that makes this so. When cyborgs organize their experience using a technological horizon, the human and machinic seem to converge at that ever receding line where cloud and earth appear to meet. This apparent convergence has begun to become real. The world becomes the operational environment of technology.
This state of affairs entails anxiety in many cyborgs which they frequently conceptualize as a discomfort with ever-increasing surveillance. This condition, from a cyborg perspective, is described in The New Inquiry essay The Anxieties of Big Data by Kate Crawford.
Surveillant anxiety is always a conjoined twin: The anxiety of those surveilled is deeply connected to the anxiety of the surveillers. But the anxiety of the surveillers is generally hard to see; it’s hidden in classified documents and delivered in highly coded languages in front of Senate committees. This is part of why Snowden’s revelations are so startling: They make it possible for us to see the often-obscured concerns of the intelligence agencies. And while there is an enormous structural power asymmetry between the surveillers and surveilled, neither are those with the greatest power free from being haunted by a very particular kind of data anxiety: that no matter how much data they have, it is always incomplete, and the sheer volume can overwhelm the critical signals in a fog of possible correlations.
From a machinic perspective, we can easily imagine there is no anxiety, there is no surveillance as such. The steel bladed plow has broken the sod. There is only the vast prairie of information cyborgs represent.