God’s Shadow

Gilbert Fastenaekens, photography.

“What is most unfortunate about this development is that the data body not only claims to have ontological privilege, but actually has it. What your data body says about you is more real than what you say about yourself. The data body is the body by which you are judged in society, and the body which dictates your status in the world. What we are witnessing at this point in time is the triumph of representation over being.”
Critical Art Ensemble

“Avarice is a ruinous thing. It dulls the vision and the hearing, and renders men more inhuman than wild beasts. It does not permit in any way the development of friendship, of fellowship, of the salvation of the soul itself. “
John Chrysostom; 349-407

“The more we rely on search engines and social networks to find what we want and need, the more influence they wield. The power to include, exclude, and rank is the power to ensure that certain public impressions become permanent, while others remain fleeting.”
Frank Pasquale

“This watching and lying in wait for prey is a state of such peculiar tension that it can acquire a significance of its own independent of circumstances. It is a state which one tends to prolong. Later it may be induced for its own sake, without reference to any immediate prospect of prey. But man does not lie in ambush and turn persecutor with impunity. Anything of this kind which he actively undertakes, he also experiences passively in himself, in exactly the same form, only more strongly, for his greater intelligence is aware of more dangers and doubles the torment of being persecuted.”
Elias Canetti (Crowds and Power)

There is a highly interesting sports blogger, if that is the term (he is also a professor, I mean that’s his day job) named Yago Colas. His blog is here.http://yagocolas.com/index.php/2018/04/22/sports-bullshit/

One of his themes is really closely related to all critiques of instrumental logic and Capital. His discussion of basketball analytics is rather perfect as a microcosm of how the forces of ‘cybernetic capitalism’ ( Kevin Robins and Frank Webster) shapes our consciousness. It is not only junk science to a large degree, but worse, it is a way to kill the aesthetics and creativity of the game. And extrapolating outward from the rules of hoop to the wider world the same machinery of nullification is at work, and the same strange manufacturing of a universe without a true or false.

Gabriele Evertz

“Matthew Fuller argues that surveillance is no longer about visual apprehension but is instead a “ socio-algorithmic process ” that captures and calculates “ flecks of identity, ” the data trails of our everyday actions, such as our browsing history, financial transactions, and our movements as they are recorded by GPS coordinates on our mobile devices and RFID tags in passports and identity cards. The “ flecks ” concept emerges in some respect from Gilles Deleuze ’ s outline of the emergence of the “ dividual ” in the context of the control society; if the individuated self was both product and figure of modernity, “ dividuals ” are rather fragmented and dispersed data bodies.”
Rita Raley (Dataveillance and Countervailance, from Raw Data is an Oxymoron ed. Lisa Gitelman)

The real impetus behind the rise of new junk science is the erasing of the human. The new cyber panopticon is actually predicated on control of data and predictive activity, but an activity of something that is like a stand in for the human. As Lisa Gitelman points out the residue of higher or deeper truths still lingers in fields of mechanical objectivity. The very word *data* is debated by linguists as either plural or singular. And as the basketball model implies the analysis of tendencies and all the predictive conjecture that follows can never be true or false. One cannot ever know what didn’t happen.

“…the question raised by objectivity is how innocence, traditionally understood to be a state of ignorance, ever came to be associated with epistemological privilege.”
Joanna Picciotto

Jan Erik Waider, photography.

“The linking of databases, corporate actors, and institutions — as is made possible by corporate acquisitions of DoubleClick (Google) and ChoicePoint (the parent company of LexisNexis)— radically changes the scope of a query, as would the realization of a vision of data storage “ measured in petabytes. ” Speculation lurks here in the incalculable, the size of data storage exceeding conventional metrics and simply open to an unknowable future. Thus is it necessarily the case that data markets should be speculative, their units of exchange not even stabilized as such, and driven by techniques of “ predictive optimization” that attempt to generate future value.”
Rita Raley

Predictive of what, exactly? That data storage now exists in numbers nobody has words for, that exceed all markers for calculation, suggests something uncanny but also self destroying. Astronomers practice textual analysis of ancient writers in trying to understand solar eclipses, for example. The problem of *secular acceleration*, about which I do not pretend to know anything, mined reports from sources as diverse as Thales and ancient Chinese astrologers.

IBM 305 RAMAC, 1956.

“This space within the grasping hand is the anteroom of the mouth and the stomach by which the prey is finally incorporated. With many animals it is the armed mouth itself which does the seizing, instead of hand or claw. Among men the hand which never lets go has become the very emblem of power : “He was delivered into his hands”, “He was in their hands” , “It is in God’s hands”. Similar expressions are common in all languages.”
Elias Canetti

“Human languages seem to acquire different color words in a predictable sequence, for example, and the existence of the word makes possible, for cultural purposes, the reality of the color: without the word for “green,” that band of the spectrum disappears into the neighboring concept of “blue. Speakers of these languages have the same eyes, the same biological apparatus of vision as the rest of us, but they do not have the “deep structures,” the “neurolinguistic pathways” in their brains parsing out this particular band of the visual spectrum. At some point the universal biological equipment of our sensorium gives way to the relative power of language to structure and prioritize experience.”
Ed Finn (What Algorithms Want)

Mary Miss, land art installation.

Predictive of what? Again. And the answer in short is value. But it is not, all of this massive data mining, predicting what to sell or manufacture, nor is it a big casino like the stock market. It is a predictive discipline that simply manufactures value. And one of the things Ed Finn explores in his highly useful book (quoted above) is to see the way cyber capitalism brings with it a new mythos — a kind of necessary magical component. Necessary for the marketing of the idea of *data* as a sort of grail or often even a deity. Now digressing for a moment here, there is a telling footnote in Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s book Control and Freedom, that touches on the persistence of white supremacism and western Capital ….

“Faced with a ‘‘Japanese future,’’ high-tech Orientalism resurrects the frontier—in a virtual form—in order to open space for the United States. As opposed to the openly racist science fiction of the early to mid-twentieth century,which warned against the ‘‘yellow peril,’’ cyberpunk fiction does not advocate white supremacy or the resurrection of a strong United States. “
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun

Craig Kauffman

Except it does exactly that, actually. Thus Ed Said’s Orientalism was born of a colonial aesthetics (which Hui Kyong Chun notes) todays so called ‘high tech Orientalism’ is one born of anxiety and fears of emasculation. In any event, the same premise is in play; the POV is white and western. And the language of William Gibson (the sort of gold standard for cyber punk) is one that is rather surprisingly reactionary, actually. I mention this only because the entire magical aura of deep data mining is, in the end, very 19th century. The penetration of the periphery, even in computer business practices, still resembles colonial logic and with it a colonial ideology.

“The pragmatic definition lays bare the essential politics of the algorithm,its transparent complicity in the ideology of instrumental reason…”
Ed Finn

Joaquín Torres-García

The fact that algorithms remain obscure even to those who employ them suggests several things. And probably to dig into all of this exceeds the reach of this posting. But one thing it suggests that seems significant here is that what is being done — even at its most basic level like having what the system believes you want to buy presented to you repeatedly — is not really about YOU. It is about a version of YOU. And a version that while superficially reliable (I willl in fact buy….oh, THOSE kinds of sneakers or something) it is not at all reliable in any wider sense. UPS has created a vast computerized system for routing packages via its fleet of trucks. In other words this system, ORION, tells drivers which road is likely (sic) the fastest to get the package to its destination. Except ORION arrived at these routes partly through feedback from the drivers themselves. And these drivers do not live in a vacuum. They look at other internet mapping systems, they watch TV and they use various search engines to find information on traffic jams, or repairs, or weather conditions. Hence there is a kind of infinite feedback loop at work. The drivers tell UPS their experiences, which were learned in significant part by other internet research, and then ORION creates a route that is based on itself in a sense. It is like people telling each other a story they learned from the person they are now telling it to.

No drivers who worked without computers or GPS were surveyed. Maybe because none exist.

Sanford Wurmfeld

“At a certain level of cultural success, these systems start to create their own realities as well: various players in the system begin to alter their behavior in ways that short-circuit the system’s assumptions.”
Ed Finn

“To a greater degree than do some of those earlier concepts, computing overlaps with one of the most influential lines in the history of modern thought, namely the rationalist theory of mind. This may account in part for the strength of computing’s influence in contemporary culture. I argue that the current vogue for computation takes this old belief system— that something like rational calculation might account for every part of the material world, and especially the social and mental worlds— and repurposes it in such a way so as to give every appearance of its being something very new.”
David Golumbia (Cultural Logic of Computation)

The belief in the superiority of computational practices, of all things computerized, is expressed in a specific grammar and rhetoric of instrumental reasoning. An ideology of instrumental logic, and one that travels across the entire spectrum of society today. At least in the West. And it brings with it, at all times, a tacit appeal to authority. The idea of computer verification is seen as unassailable. As David Golumbia notes, computerization, as a principle, aids those who align themselves with the existing authority structure. Computers reinforce the status quo, they are not agents of change. And this is largely because of the language of instrumental privilege, but also because computer computation, including the mythic algorithm, are re-circulating what already exists. The UPS driver will be penalized for trying a new, perhaps better, route to deliver his package. Efficiency is the stepchild of technological computation. And across all of this there are no humans.

Dillinger in court, Chicago. (Chicago Tribune archive).

Or rather, the idea of the human is being altered. Algorithmic systems encourage what communication theorists call a *tacit negotiation* with ourselves. We speak certain ways to machines, we write certain ways to make ourselves clear to computers, and we make behavioural choices almost automatically in an effort to avoid the frustrations of the computer’s narrow window on reality. Computer analysis is now viewed as nearly foolproof in fields such as the physical sciences, politics and theoretical mathematics. The problem becomes more acute when computer logic is applied culturally. It is problematic everywhere, but culturally the effects imply very long lasting changes in social behaviour and expectation.

“With the growing significance of immaterial labor, and the concomitant increase in cultivation and exploitation of play—creativity, innovation, the new, the singular, flexibility, the supplement—as a productive force, play will become more and more linked to broad social structures of control.”
Alexander Galloway

Kyungah Ham (Kukje Gallery, 2015).

But back to the erasure of the human. Ed Finn has a fascinating chapter devoted to Netflix, and in particular to the algorithmic managed creation of House of Cards. Now, while the influence of the Clinton political machine is not mentioned, one very telling observation is worth noting. The opening credits show a city without people.

“Absent from every single scene is a single human being. It is an abstracted view of the city as a political and informational power center that emphasizes institutions over people.”

Lyubov Popova, textile design, 1924.

It is D.C. as a cybernetic algorithmic city of absolute sterility, but also one that is being valorized for its efficiency and order. As Finn observes, we are being invited into a world governed by algorithmic logic. A culture cleansed of the disorderly human. The fact that the narrative is *about* the disorder and greed and avarice of the human does not alter this. In fact it reinforces it. The structure, the system, is eternal, we are only passing viewers. And as such, as viewers to what is meant to feel, and often does feel, personalized just for us, the idea of discrimination is being corrupted. Do *we* really like what Netflix has created for us? Or does the viewer simply accept an implied algorithmic directive?

“Herein, perhaps, lies the secret: to bring into existence and not to judge. . . . What expert judgment, in art could ever bear on the work to come?”
Gilles Deleuze, To Have Done With Judgment

What Deleuze meant, I suspect, was this corrupted judgement. Algorithmic judgement, and it may be that increasingly that is all there is. I found this quote in a piece by Yago Colas, in the context of basketball, again. And its curious how well hoop serves as a micro model for some of the above ideas. Players are moving dots on a screen. Like drone pilots see their targets. This from a piece on the Israeli army and drone assassination…

“The issue at hand, then, boils down to one with which an MBA candidate or Deloitte consultant might grapple: How can our organization make sense of an over-abundance of data and increase employee productivity by leveraging 21st century software techniques? The only difference here is that the organization in question is interested in the business of killing, and an increase in employee productivity means killing more easily.”
Sam Biddle (The Intercept)

There is a subtle tone of irony in the above. And irony is one of the only rhetorical forms that sneaks into computational and computer prose. The inherently conservative bent of irony in post modern culture is likely at its base connected to the trends of cybernetic language usage. This is not a criticism of Biddle, per se, but more an observation that a critical prose meant to probe a culture shredding ideas of indeterminacy and mystery is prone to the forces of capital and instrumental reason. Efficient killing then is an interesting concept. Should death ever be efficient? Is murder ever so?

Harry Gruyaert, photography.

“In a world where corporations already inhabit an ideal personhood (exported uniquely from an Anglo- American model) that obscures what we understand as human being (not least because the humans who inhabit them are rarely held accountable for a corporation’s actions), and as with commercials for detrimental technologies like always- on wireless connectivity, it is all the more necessary to articulate the ideological operations of the computational tropes as they come into being, rather than afterwards. We need to find a way to generate critical praxis even of what appears as an inarguable good.”
David Golumbia

The growth of the panopticon is linked to a central contradiction, which David Lyon pointed out this way…” the more stringent and rigorous the panoptic regime, the more it generates active resistance, whereas the more soft and subtle the panoptic strategies, the more it produces the desired docile bodies.” One of the most *ironic* aspects of this hyper instrumentalism is, again, that the reduced linguistic palette that accompanies computer interactions is never going to stop and then turn around and expand. Digital perfection is also a digitalized shrinkage. That is not the logic involved. And this language is suitable for the docile body. The receptive viewer keyed into their own bespoke entertainment cubicle, psychic or otherwise. The restive, however, are increasing. The soft power panopticon is mostly a fiction, anyway. In fact, the receptive body/psyche is not one that is directly targeted by policing and surveillance.

Edwina Leapman

The docile body is likely more affluent than the un-docile body. I am not sure at all what is exactly meant by the docile *body*. The spectator, in whose seeming docility the corporate algorithmic overlords see potential, is only an abstraction. A kind of pseudo doubled version of you. But it is worth going back to the way language has been shaped since the advent of computers. David Golumbia has a chapter on Chomsky and his linguistic theories, but more, it is about the role Chomsky has played as control voice for computational authority as it intersects with political theory. Some might say gatekeeper. I’m not one of them, quite. Although…. allow me a longer quote here from Golumbia…

“A few scholars have begun to trace certain political movements within the English- speaking academy in the 1950s and early 1960s that point toward the existence of a directed search for a particular ideological view that would help to guide intellectual work toward a goal we have now come to recognize as neoliberalism, and that would condition in a profound manner the intellectual climate established in leading universities. In a deliberate and also largely covert effort to resist the possibility of communist/Marxist encroachment on the U.S. conceptual establishment (which points at something far broader than institutional philosophy), individuals, government entities including the military and intelligence bodies (De Landa 1991), and private foundations like the RAND Corporation, promoted values like objectivity and rationalism over against subjectivity, collectivity, and shared social responsibility. Dovetailing precisely with the emerging availability of computing machinery in universities and with the waning productivity of the first wave of computing theorists (Turing, von Neumann, Shannon, et. al.), Chomsky offered the academy at least two attractive sets of theses that, while framed in terms of a profoundly new way of understanding the world, in fact harkened back to some of the most deeply entrenched views in the Western intellectual apparatus. First, as a general background, Chomsky insists that the only reasonable locus for analysis of cognitive and linguistic matters is the human individual, operating largely via a specific kind of rationality (a view that Chomsky would later come to call “Cartesian rationalism”; Chomsky 1966); second, specifically with regard to the substance both of cognition and of language, Chomsky argues that the brain is something very much like one of the most recent developments in Western technology: the computer.”

Tofer Chin

Now this is relevant because the language of cyber capitalism is also roughly the language of the military. Economics, too, increasingly seems to have absorbed subtle metaphorical militarism. But I am digressing really, and Golumbia himself is a complicated and somewhat contradictory figure. (see http://www.uncomputing.org/?p=1950 ).But what strikes me about the Chomsky chapter is the lurking authoritarian elements in this model of thought. And Chomsky was funded for several years by the U.S. defense apparatus, in particular the U.S. Army Signal Corps. In any event Chomsky did write a piece called Cartesian Linguistics. And I wrote before about the shadow of Cartesian rationality on western consciousness. Chomsky’s later dismissal of both Derrida and Lacan is worth noting as well. It does tend to cast his leftist critiques in a certain rather cloudy light. The model for how language works, as Chomsky defined it, is a scary positivist one with authoritarian echoes. Now, by the sixties in American academia the linguistic theory wars were coming to be divided into a couple camps, and one of them drew more on Wittgenstein and Austin, while others on Chomsky. This is a crude description, but the point is that it is in Wittgenstein that the deeper resistance of instrumental logic is to be found.

But I am not a linguist. That said, the computational hyper instrumental idea of reason would find one branch in Ayn Rand. That is worth reflecting upon. Golumbia notes that the ideal man for this tendency came to be Mr Spock on Star Trek. That was the self image when the reality was closer to Captain Kirk…who Golumbia describes as …

“…all blind obedience, hierarchical order, the State as discovering techno- militarists, putting itself in the God’s-eye seat of judgment over all cultures, even if its best (Kantian) hope is to never violate the needs of those beneath it. Kirk’s gender, his relation to gender, and his race, the State, and the state of being the colonizer, are inextricably bound to these definitions, despite the wish to make them autonomous. The sense that we are the primitive being, that the Id (or, in more accurate translations of Freud, as suggested by Deleuze and Guattari 1983, “it”) is part of us, that our language might be outside the idealized realm of the rational, that our category of the animal might include precisely some of the most important features we use to define our selves— all these ideas are present in Wittgenstein and anathema to computationalism.”

Michel de Ghelderode

However, I do sense in the cultural realm the extraordinary force that has come to be applied to the western imagination by what one might call a mega version of tacit negotiation with ourselves. As the very idea of the self shrinks, as the ego shrinks and becomes malformed, the negotiation with self begins to borrow from fascist oration. Our re-narrating of viewing artworks, from paintings to film or theatre feels as if it has taken on both a level of paranoia and one of almost sexual violence. Self translation into the grammar of computational alienation. And one of the odd experiences I have had over the last ten years, which feels related, is to see artists I once knew as radical and even revolutionary now given to creating the softest and most inoffensive kitsch work imaginable. Hashtag beaten.

I also see the retreat of certain kinds of idiosyncratic thinking, certain kinds of books difficult to define. Writers like Emil Cioran or Elias Canetti, or Rene Daumal. Or playwrights like Michel de Ghelderode. The academic worker now toils in ever more constricted intellectual space in the U.S., and outsider writers, especially those who presume to have philosophical vision, are nowhere to be found. They certainly are not published.

Shatasahasrika Prajnaparamita ( in 100,000 Verses) Western Tibet, Tholing Monastery, 11th century (detail)

There has been a massive migration away from public visibility and into the shadows. Increasingly that means the deep shadows. This began, I think, in the 60s. Or at the end of the 60s. Once Reagan took office there was full scale migration into the dark and out of the light. The seventies marked both the consolidation of wealth at the top as well as the highjacking of media, of public discourse, and the elimination of any dissenting voice.

“Rooted in Enlightenment privileging of vision as a means to order and control, today the complex dialectics of watching and being watched. The search for surveillance theories are still central to regulation and to governance even if – or just because – we acknowledge both in the shift to ‘dataveillance’ and the growth of many other forms of mediated watching by the few of the many as well as the many of the few. If not as an actual architecture expressed in stone and cement, the panopticon still functions as an ideal, a metaphor and a set of practices. The utopian vision machine (alluded to by Paul Virilio 1994) continues to drive initiatives such as the US Department of Homeland Security. The idea of omniscient visibility lies behind many schemes from urban planning to military intelligence. And the practices of unseen observation and categorical discrimination are encountered on a daily basis beneath the CCTV cameras and on the phone to the call centre.”
David Lyon

Gonzalo Fonseca

The omniscient cop, or God. The rise of Evangelical Dominionists in the U.S. government likely speaks to the rise of and appeal of a religion expressed in the language of spread sheet militarism and computational authority. The current Evangelicals are marked by their expressive banality and sub-literacy. Ted Cruz or Rick Perry are not exactly Duns Scotus or Peter Abelard. But the rise of surveillance coincides with, unsurprisingly, the rise of *reality TV*. Again, like the algorithmic manufacturing of Netflix narratives, *reality TV* creates an atmosphere of bespoke entertainment. After market customizing. Shows in which viewers vote are increasingly like dystopian visions of endless punishment as a sort of electronic narcotic for the masses. But *reality TV* shows do more than just allow for feelings of specialness in the viewer; they also ‘destigmatize surveillance’ (Andrejevic 2004). Still, behind so much of this culture of punitive variety there is still that Cartesian and Enlightenment belief in a very specific kind of detached rationality. And it has been a horribly corrupting influence on mankind. That reality is ‘out there’…OR….that reality is only what I want it to be. Both are hideously wrong. But both are comparatively simple. And that retreat into the shadows is transformed today because the shadows are being eliminated. And that is the single most profound change in Western society over the last eighty or a hundred years: the loss of a free unregulated periphery. The place where culture once came from is now a denuded over surveilled landscape managed by private security companies. There is no place where data is not collected. No place not covered by CCTV, and no place even metaphorically that is outside. Where once the renegades or artists or radicals could live very cheaply without being plugged in, the reality is that today you are plugged in by the system. You have no choice in that anymore.

Confession is now, after *reality TV*, the mark of individuality. I confess therefore I am (unique). One is special because of weakness, but only if confessed. Cowardice and avarice and greed are fine if you confess them in public arenas of electronic flagellation. There is a distinct and increasingly unpalatable masochism in the atmosphere of western societies.

Jungjin Lee, photography.

“The conductor stands: ancient memories of what it meant when man first stood upright still play an important part in any representations of power. Then, he is the only person who stands. In front of him sits the orchestra and behind him the audience. He stands on a dais and can be seen both from in front and from behind. In front his movements act on the orchestra and behind on the audience. In giving his actual directions he uses only his hands, or his hands and a baton. Quite small movements are all he needs to wake this or that instrument to life or to silence it at will. He has the power of life and death over the voices of the instruments; one long silent will speak again at his command.”
Elias Canetti

The universe of disembodied data has meant that man has lost his and her last tentative purchase on physical and material life. And with it, those trace memories of our ancestors are also lost. In the sciences, the material world retreats and abstract data is privileged. And this sense of statistical reality eclipsing the material world is found, also, in the psychological realm. As psychoanalysis is attacked, replacing it is the new cognitive mapping, and neuroscience techniques that “explain” behaviour by charting biology. As amazing as modern medicine may be, and it is, the philosophical implications of this trust in “explanation” by description itself is hugely problematic. In a sense this is a pseudo material body that is being discussed and analysed. It is the data double again.

Anne Truitt

Mark Cole, in an essay on confession and surveillance, quotes a study by Findlay and Newton on health care professionals:

“All such measures are designed to refine the observational assessment of the appraisee, to provide an unfettered gaze upon their job performance and, particularly, to identify any inabilities they may have in meeting expected norms … However appraisal is about more than surveillance since it is not just about monitoring ‘sub-standard’ performance, but knowing why it occurred. Answering this question requires an ability to gaze upon the subjectivity of the worker, to know her feelings, anxieties, her identity and her consciousness.” (Findlay and Newton, 1998).

Gazing on subjectivity. Such draconian expressions of omniscient power, of God the Cop, are embedded in all this new technology of self discourse which is already deeply established in workplace environments. But it is also an expression of dulled self awareness. Nobody can look at subjectivity. What does that even mean? And in turn this is only possible because of a deteriorating palette for linguistic expression. The viewer re-narrates now as police procedural. The cop is not just heroic but is deified. So are soldiers. Death is relativized in all this TV comic book product. Death is either sentimental and hence obscured or it is denied. I cant count the number of characters returned from the dead in TV drama (albeit often from Comic book sources). The shadows are being surveilled now. The edges of society have CCTV. But even surveillance is seen as secondary to algorithmic power. The society of data mining, of algorithmic hegemony over daily life is the virtual site of worship. Such predicitive valorizing, even if only partly accurate or true, has destroyed private ritual space. But more, algorithms are challenging the the idea of truth. For what is *true* is less and less important today. True, False, who cares.

“…emphasis is placed on the ways in which the sheer three dimensional complexity and scale of global south cities allegedly undermine the United States’ expensively assembled and hegemonic advantages in surveillance by targeting and killing through ‘precise’ air and space-based weapons systems.”
Stephen Graham

The urban global south is seen a swamp in need of draining. For it has too many shadows. The omnipotent gaze of US imperialism must be granted clear sight lines. So not only domestically are the shadows being removed, but globally as well.

“When Thucydides wishes to express his sense of the internal chaos brought upon the cities of Greece by the civil wars that arose during the time of the Pelopesnnian Wars, he tells us, among other things, that words themselves lost their meaning.”
James Boyd White

Lu Guang, photography.

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  1. This piece is such essential reading for these times.

    It brought up so many experiences and conversations I’ve had over the last 20 years. For some time I tried to work within corporate structures, and as most thinking people find, it failed. I recall working for a startup tech company in the early 2000’s and locking heads with the data scientists. I had direct contact with customers and every time I talked with the data people and digital marketers they would never listen to my POV. It always ended with “we KNOW the customer…”. You just don’t understand our methods that yield deep understanding of the customer… I once had a coffee meeting off site with a senior exec and board member who I thought would be more understanding of my POV and was fired shortly after … the geniuses who “understand the data and the customer” are infallible and anyone who questions the one right path are idiotic.

    I recall a cocktail party conversation years later in a very different city with an acclaimed data scientist with “impressive” resume … we had a nice conversation until I pressed him on what he “knew” about customers. After such pleasant conversation on other topics he completely dismissed my philosophical questions and got agitated with my “simple minded” questions. I still remember the insane look in his eyes when he told me I just could never understand what a data scientist “knows” about “customers”. Completely turned me away from participating in the system.

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