, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 357–368 | Cite as

Symbiosis or assimilation: critical reflections on the ontological self at the precipice of Total Data

  • Peter J. CarewEmail author
Original Article


Contemporary data practices are inducing a convergent saturation point (conceptually referred to as Total Data) wherein every human action, reaction, interaction, transaction, thought or desire is quantified, reified, recorded and used. Physical or virtual, all is recorded, known or unknown, seen or unseen, until data permeates every facet of our shared human existence. The implications of this eventuality are potentially so far reaching that the very notion or concept of who we are might be fundamentally altered, resulting in new ontologies of the self in a world of Total Data. This polemic paper reflects on the implications that Total Data has for the ontological self in a range of individual and shared contexts, and considers the potential it has to ultimately be symbiotic or assimilatory. It suggests that the current trajectory for Total Data is more assimilatory than symbiotic, demonstrating more potential to collectively monitor and control people than to emancipate and empower them. In response, it calls for an authentic debate and reassessment of current data practices, and for an urgent reprioritisation of core and enduring human-centred values and symbiosis in technological systems development to emancipate and empower people living in a Total Data world.


Big data Human-centred symbiosis Privacy Surveillance Technological determinism Total Data 


  1. Acquisti A (2004) Privacy in electronic commerce and the economics of immediate gratification. In: 5th ACM conference on electronic commerce, New York, pp 21–29Google Scholar
  2. Acquisti A, Brandimarte L, Loewenstein G (2015) Privacy and human behavior in the age of information. Science 347:509–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alge BJ, Hansen SD (2014) Workplace monitoring and surveillance research since “1984”: a review and agenda. In: Coovert MD, Lori FT (eds) The psychology of workplace technology. Routledge, New York, pp 209–237Google Scholar
  4. Alonso JM, Clifton J, Díaz-Fuentes D (2015) Did new public management matter? An empirical analysis of the outsourcing and decentralization effects on public sector size. Public Manag Rev 17:643–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Altman I (1976) Privacy: a conceptual analysis. Environ Behav 8:7–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ambrose ML (2012) It’s about time: privacy, information life cycles, and the right to be forgotten. Stanf Technol Law Rev 16:369Google Scholar
  7. Ausloos J (2012) The ‘right to be forgotten’—worth remembering? Comput Law Secur Rev 28:143–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ball K (2017) All consuming surveillance: surveillance as marketplace icon. Consum Mark Cult 20:95–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bauer MA, Wilkie JE, Kim JK, Bodenhausen GV (2012) Cuing consumerism situational materialism undermines personal and social well-being. Psychol Sci 23:517–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bauman Z, Lyon D (2013) Liquid surveillance: a conversation. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Blanchette J-F, Johnson DG (2002) Data retention and the panoptic society: the social benefits of forgetfulness. Inf Soc 18:33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brandt D, Cernetic J (1998) Human-centred approaches to control and information technology: European experiences. AI Soc 12:2–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bullingham L, Vasconcelos AC (2013) ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities. J Inf Sci 39:101–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burgoon J (1982) Privacy and communication. Commun Yearb 6:206–249Google Scholar
  15. Carew PJ, Stapleton L (2005a) Towards a privacy framework for information systems development. In: Vaselicas O, Wojtowski W, Wojtowski G (eds) Information systems development: advances in theory, practice and education. Kluwer Academic Press, Boston, pp 77–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carew PJ, Stapleton L (2005a) Privacy, patients and healthcare workers: a critical analysis of large scale, integrated manufacturing information systems reapplied in health. In: 16th IFAC World Congress, PragueGoogle Scholar
  17. Carew PJ, Stapleton L (2014) Towards empathy: a human-centred analysis of rationality, ethics and praxis in systems development. AI Soc 29:149–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carew PJ, Stapleton L, Byrne GJ (2008) Implications of an ethic of privacy for human-centred systems engineering. AI Soc 22:385–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cecez-Kecmanovic D, Klein HK, Brooke C (2008) Exploring the critical agenda in information systems research. Inf Syst J 2008:123–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Conlon E, Zandvoort H (2011) Broadening ethics teaching in engineering: beyond the individualistic approach. Sci Eng Ethics 2011:217–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cottey A (2014) Technologies, culture, work, basic income and maximum income. AI Soc 29:249–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Crawford K, Schultz J (2014) Big data and due process: toward a framework to redress predictive privacy harms. BCL Rev 55:93Google Scholar
  23. Davison HK, Bing MN, Kluemper DH, Roth PL (2016) Social media as a personnel selection and hiring resource: reservations and recommendations. Social media in employee selection and recruitment. Springer, Berlin, pp 15–42Google Scholar
  24. Descartes R (1644) Principles of philosophyGoogle Scholar
  25. Dotson T (2015) Technological determinism and permissionless innovation as technocratic governing mentalities: psychocultural barriers to the democratization of technology. Engag Sci Technol Soc 1:98–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dreyfus HL (2001) On the internet. Routledge, NYGoogle Scholar
  27. Etzioni A (2013) The good life: an international perspective. There is a future vision for a better world. Universidad Complutense de Madrid, MadridGoogle Scholar
  28. Etzioni A (2014) Political corruption in the United States: a design draft. PS Polit Sci Polit 47:141–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Foucault M (1977) Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. Vintage, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Gandomi A, Haider M (2015) Beyond the hype: big data concepts, methods, and analytics. Int J Inf Manage 35:137–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gandy O (1995) It’s discrimination, stupid. In: Brook J, Boal IA (eds) Resisting the virtual life: the culture and politics of information. City Lights, San Francisco, pp 35–47Google Scholar
  32. Gill KS (1996) The human-centred movement: the British context. AI Soc 10:109–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gill KS (2012) Human machine symbiotics: on control and automation in human contexts. In: IFAC international stability and systems engineering (SWIIS) conference, WaterfordGoogle Scholar
  34. Gill KS (2013) The Internet of things! then what? AI Soc 28:367–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gold, M.K. (2012) Debates in the digital humanities. U of Minnesota PressGoogle Scholar
  36. Gorman M (2015) Revisiting enduring values. JLIS it Manifesto 6:13Google Scholar
  37. Hämäläinen R, De Wever B, Malin A, Cincinnato S (2015) Education and working life: VET adults’ problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments. Comput Educ 88:38–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hardin R (2013) Government without trust. J Trust Res 3:32–52MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ihde D (2002) Bodies in technology. University of Minnesota Press, MNGoogle Scholar
  40. Jankauskas S (2003) Nothing exists, or the problem of being in the thinking of sophists. Problemos 63:62–72Google Scholar
  41. Kierkegaard S (1843) Either/or: a fragment of life. Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  42. Konigk R, Kahn Z (2015) The ethics of tastemaking: towards responsible conspicuous consumption. Design education forum of Southern AfricaGoogle Scholar
  43. Lyon D (2010) Liquid surveillance: the contribution of Zygmunt Bauman to surveillance studies. Int Polit Soc 4:325–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Maslow AH (1943) A theory of human motivation. Psychol Rev 50:370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McDonald P, Thompson P (2016) Social media (tion) and the reshaping of public/private boundaries in employment relations. Int J Manag Rev 18:69–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mendoza LG (2014) Wittgensteinian method of language-games and the bystander effect. Philipp Soc Sci Rev 66:41–66Google Scholar
  47. Nietzsche F (1878) Human, all too human. Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  48. Pedersen DM (1997) Psychological functions of privacy. J Environ Psychol 17:147–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Peters MA (2017) Technological unemployment: educating for the fourth industrial revolution. Educ Philos Theory 49:1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Portet F, Vacher M, Golanski C, Roux C, Meillon B (2013) Design and evaluation of a smart home voice interface for the elderly: acceptability and objection aspects. Pers Ubiquit Comput 17:127–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Quinn K (2016) Why we share: a uses and gratifications approach to privacy regulation in social media use. J Broadcast Electron Media 60:61–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rawls J (1973) A theory of justice. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  53. Roessler B, Mokrosinska D (2015) Social dimensions of privacy: interdisciplinary perspectives. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rotman D (2013) How technology is destroying jobs. Technol Rev 16:28–35Google Scholar
  55. Sartre J-P (1973) Existentialism and humanism. Eyre Methuen, LondonGoogle Scholar
  56. Schwartz SH (1992) Universals in the content and structure of values: theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 25:1–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Swan M (2013) The quantified self: fundamental disruption in big data science and biological discovery. Big Data 1:85–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Turkle S (1995) Life on the screen—identity in the age of the internet. Touchstone, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  59. Vallor S (2015) Moral deskilling and upskilling in a new machine age: reflections on the ambiguous future of character. Philos Technol 28:107–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Whitmore A, Agarwal A, Da Xu L (2015) The internet of things—a survey of topics and trends. Inf Syst Front 17:261–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zuboff S (1988) In the age of the smart machine: the future of work and power. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.INSYTE Centre for Information Systems and TechnocultureWaterford Institute of TechnologyWaterfordIreland

Personalised recommendations