The Age of Information and The Last Kabbalist

I remember as a 13 year old, attending a lesson at my school – the subject had something to do with the bible; probably Rashi – (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki – a 12th Century French Jewish sage); he wrote very detailed commentaries on ancient Jewish Laws – that is, interpretations of what the explicit biblical rules and regulations mean, sort of, the meaning behind the meaning. All very cryptic.

Here is what a page looks like in Hebrew:

rashi.jpeg

It is so complicated, there are commentaries or commentaries of commentaries.

Rabbi Z say, Rabbi C says that Z said, Rabbi D said that what Rabbi Z meant was different to Rabbi C or A and…

Anyway.

My point relates more to something the teacher mentioned in a passing comment about Kabbalah.

Now, some of you will have heard about this in relation to Madonna the singer and others, from novels by folk like Dan Brown. Essentially, Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism, magic, spirituality, philosophy and sophistry all mixed into one enchanting system.

madonna.jpeg

It is one of those things that Bruce Lee (not mentioned him in a while!) would have called a circle without circumference.

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I don’t know a great deal more about Kabbalah than what I have written (oh, yes, there is quite a good novel by Richard Zimler called ‘The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon’ which I recommend).

last kabbalist.jpegGetting at last to the point is what the teacher said about Kabbalah.

Seemingly, only adults (and, back in the 80’s that meant old men) were allowed to study the sacred texts, and, only men over 40 years. Under this age, and the subject matter was considered too powerful – the most commonly used analogy being, ‘like wandering into a dark forest and losing your way,’ I think this is shorthand for, ‘If you study this stuff at too young an age, before you are adequately fixed in your ideas, you risk insanity.’

Suffice it to say, despite having now tipped my fourth decade, I haven’t risked venturing-in; also, there is too much else going-on in my life.

How you ask, does this relate to the information age?

Or, perhaps, Information Age, with capitals, to give it its due.

Well, I am coming to the end of the mammoth audiobook, ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’ written by Shoshana Zuboff.

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I have mentioned this in a recent blog.

The book is a masterpiece, covering all aspects of the internet, how the tech giants, technologists, governments and capitalists in general have entered into a new age associated with the growth of social media.

I don’t necessarily recommend the book as it is so big; perhaps Shoshana could write a mini-guide?

What the book touches on in particular is the way in which technology has advanced to such an extent that no human is able to comprehend the enormity of either the computational ability of computers (and when I say this, I don’t mean ‘Deep Blue’ sitting in a museum somewhere, more the networked, globally connected, what Zuboff sometimes describes as The Hive (both I believe in relation to how our society has made us information collectivists like bees and also the way the whole miraculously works together.) (Like the recent shot of the black hole using global connected, computer imagery.)

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Now, the computers are still controlled by humans, although every time I or anyone interacts with technology, be that a phone, PC, internet-enabled TV, fridge or car we are generating information that can be mined and translated into data that can then be ‘rendered’ in Zuboff’s terminology, into material that is sold by social media companies to increase profit (advertising mostly).

This again, is sort of OK, heck; if I don’t know how to spell ‘supersede’ (NK), and the computer knows that people who can’t spell this word and who have a hundred other specific foibles of typing, net-browsing, driving habits and so on; essentially, the computers are at the point of understanding me and knowing everything about me and what I think or might think in the future.

(It only takes 20-odd Facebooks likes to determine your personality type more accurately than any standardised tool).

You can try this out on your phone;

Go in to Whatsapp or the text app and write; ‘I’ this is then supported by a string of words based on your past browsing and typing habits that either Apple, Samsung, Google or Facebook have processed and predict what is next;

For me, for example; I.. have.. ordered.. the.. chicken.. soup.. for.. dinner.. tonight…

As to what this says about me and chickens, I don’t know.

Yet, who has written this sentence? Me or Apple? Is it based on my ideas or those of others?

Where does this end?

Do you see where I am going?

It can get a little crazy.

I watched ‘Bodyguard’ last night on TV – it is a UK conspiracy thriller/suspense involving government, security, organised crime, Jihadis and others;

Central to the story is the implementation of ‘RIPA 18’ a Parliamentary act which would allow the government access to all information, to prevent terrorist attacks.

Every time I walk down the street, CCTV’s capture my image and, their ability to detect me, my facial features, gait and so on is now so sophisticated that if you are sitting in  a Google data-store, or you have hacked into Google, you can work-out where I am and what I am doing at any moment in time; If I pop to London, the software can track me.

Is this a bad thing?

Well, in myself I feel this to be the case, although I as yet do not know enough.

It is however a reality.

Remember in The Matrix where Neo takes the Red/Blue pill?

That is stepping into Kabbalah, and, so too, with the potential effects of knowing too much about the potential of technology to control, analyse, nudge or coerce us into action or inaction.

I think I am too young for all this.

Genug!

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4 comments

  1. You’re not missing much not reading Kabbalah – I had a whole set of ‘the books’ (The Zohar) – in English, it has to be said – and it sent me into a sort of blur. Or maybe I was just too young. Or the wrong gender.

    The internet’s overtaken me. I was always the sort of person heavily into techology, but now… I sometimes think it helps not to overthink all this stuff, can it be good for our brains?

    I’ve often wondered, apropos Neo’s choice… what if he’d taken both?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Val –

      It is less the harm of technology to the brains of grown-ups, more what effect it is having longer-term on the brains of young children and more-so, social media – who knows;

      Good Neo question! There is actually a book somewhere called ‘Taking the blue pill’ – suspect this is something the writers considered… Will try to look it out!

      Thanks for the feedback.

      Rod

      Liked by 1 person

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