Einstein’s theory of relativity can tell us simply that the past and the future are inherently equal. The laws governing our lives are time-symmetric, deeming us grounded in the now, unable to alter past events and to know how the future will play out. Physics has locked us into a four dimensional space-time-block, one that human beings attempt to resist using technological innovation.
The results can be both heavily detrimental and also beneficial. We can see this in both the ways capitalism and major corporations have used time manipulation as a means to power, and also the way the proletariat have used it to challenge those in power.
The past has been a little more difficult to manipulate with, however, data mining has proved that we can store the past in computer systems to keep them available for future use. Government agencies, such as the infamous NSA, have teamed their policy interests with the “commercial interests of technology companies” as both share an interest in the “collection and rapid analysis of user data” (Morozov, 2013). We use technologies to store our personal data, such as weight loss apps and social media platforms. Citizens, thus, “take on the role of information machines” that supply “the techno-bureaucratic complex with our data”(Morozov, 2013). In this way, techno-bureaucratic companies become the agents of surveillance, using data mining as a means to store the series of ‘nows’ into an archive of past events and personal attributes that can become of use when a citizen is deemed threatening to the state. Therefore, nothing that happens in the past can be kept simply in the past. The surveillance technologies of government agencies use algorithmic regulation, turning our civilisation, as Habermas stated, into “an exclusively technical” one, where the only two classes available are the “social engineers and the inmates of closed social institutions” (Habermas, as cited by Morozov, 2013).
All of our experiences become past events, and thus our attempts to compute the future means to take data stored in the past and manipulate it via complex algorithms in order to be able to forecast the future. There are some benefits of this, as demonstrated by a crowdsourced-mapping project launched in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). OpenStreetMap contains information about the government’s plans for and their application of mining, drilling, forestry, agriculture and road building. The map displays areas of the country protected by the UN, which indicates where the government may not overstep. There is a similar kind of ‘occupation’ of which Mckenzie Wark speaks, taking place here. Where agriculture and land cultivation are crucial aspects of sustenance within the (DRC), the public must keep checks on their government’s behaviour in order to make sure that they are not being exploited as mere workers fueling a data mining industry. Corporations may own the social media or the technologies being used to monitor government activity, however, it is important that this monitoring is taking place as “an occupation of the social media vector (Wark, 2011). The founder of OpenStreetMap, Leo Bottril, thinks that public contribution to the regulation of government control over agricultural and forestland makes information more accessible and more transparent.
In this sense there is a democratic aspect to data technologies. This occupation of vectoral space implies that there is a democratic politics taking place in which people come together to discuss, to exchange data and to negotiate. The intangible world of data mining, when controlled by the public domain, is an opportunity to dictate the future in a positive way. One that does not create a surveillance state in which the proletariat are simply subordinate to the technologies of big corporations and government interests, but one in which we can compute the future so as to regulate government agency and retain some agency.
It is not a surprise that Newton’s computational schema is reflective of the way in which we represent time as data. He proposed that we first map the present onto some mathematic algorithm, input that state into some dynamical equation; map the equation’s output back onto a future reality. Solving physics in this way has changed the way humans utilise their worldview, and a constant appeal to this system represents a fear that a certain subjective power will be lost.