The post-modern era we currently live in is in large part defined by the ubiquitous presence of technology. For better or worse, identity and human interaction have been altered by the rise of social media, the accompanying information industry “Big Data” and government practices of mass surveillance of digital communication, as revealed to us by leakers including Edward Snowden. Absent from the policy debate is the assessment of what mass-surveillance and Big Data mean for the psychology of a society. Enter the self-described “paranoid electronic pop” sound of new band Big Data.
Their four track debut EP “1.0” explores themes regarding the use or misuse of information, isolation and connection in the digital age, and the relationship between man and machine. The track “The Stroke of Return” asks the audience to consider the effects of Cloud computing on society, suggesting that changes in how information is stored will affect the way it is treated. Meanwhile the song “Big Dater” (it’s a pun) explores how technology has changed the significance of ‘connecting’: “it’s not that typical// connection, it’s something digital.”
“Big Data” is a collaboration between producer Alan Wilkis and musician Daniel Armbruster. But these aren’t Brooklyn hipsters ‘sticking it to the man’ with their tunes. As the lead vocalist of the band Joywave, Armbruster provides the vocals for Big Data and Joywave features on all the tracks of “1.0”. Wilkis is a Harvard graduate and worked with Facebook early in the company’s history. While in art the persona is separate from the person, Wilkis’ résumé certainly adds credibility and seriousness to their music, if not tragic irony.
Where Big Data really breaks ground is with the single “Dangerous,” which takes on issues of mass surveillance and the mass collection of personal information. The track features a heavy synthesized sound backed by an unrelenting beat that encapsulates the feelings of fear and paranoia, which arise from the thought of being constantly watched.
How could they know, how could they know
What I been thinking?
Like they’re right inside my head because they know
Because they know, what I been hidin’
They’re right under my bed, they’re on patrol (Big Data ft. Joywave, “Dangerous”)
At first listen the lyrics may seem hyperbolic. Is it really fair to equate government spying to the monster under the bed of a childhood nightmare? Consider then the revelations of Edward Snowden’s leaks: the government has the ability to tap into our digital communications, especially on social media. The government can remotely turn on your cell phone and turn it into a spying device, as well as watch your computer screen as you type, effectively knowing your thought process. These practices constitute clear violations of the 1st, 4th, 5th amendments. These practices are not only meant for preventing threats to national security; the FBI is using them to prosecute domestic crimes. Furthermore, under the NSA’s own “three hops” rule, the odds are that the government can spy on you without a warrant.
“Here they come, yeah here they come
Out of the shadows
To take me to the court because they know
Gotta shut this down, cause they been watching all my windows
They gathered up the warrant cause they” (Big Data ft. Joywave, “Dangerous”)
The fear that the government will come after you for discussing classified information that has been leaked in a journalistic setting is evidenced by the Barrett Brown case. Brown, a journalist, was charged with hacking for posting links to hacked information. Although charges were eventually dropped, the case is unsettling to defenders of a free press. As a result, the necessary national discussion on mass surveillance has been muted in contrast to the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers. This is not to say that reporting of government policy has been absent – what is lacking is a meaningful analytical discussion of government policies and programs and their implications for individuals and society. Big Data’s music is a bold new reflection on the psychology surrounding society’s relationship with new information technologies and surveillance policy.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff, editors, or governors.