Friday, March 23, 2012

America as High Context Culture

You know that you are in a high context culture (HC) when it is evident that everyone is trying to collect information about you.  Living in HC situations means that counter parties have information about you-- your likes, dislikes, needs, desires, friends and family.   For many older Americans, who grew up in Low Context (LC) America, it all seems like a great invasion of one’s privacy.  For many of the younger generations, having their “whole life” posted on Facebook, YouTube or other social sites is just a way of living.  For HC and LC see here.

Employers are doing it too--see here:

Facebook is warning employers not to demand the passwords of job applicants, saying that it's an invasion of privacy that opens companies to legal liabilities.

The social networking company is also threatening legal action.

An Associated Press story this week documented cases of job applicants who are being asked, at the interview table, to reveal their Facebook passwords so their prospective employers can check their backgrounds.

In a post on Friday, Facebook's chief privacy officer cautions that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may open itself up to claims of discrimination if it doesn't hire that person.

"If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password," Erin Egan wrote.

The government is doing it too, here.  They are building a mega data storage facility in Utah where they intend to store trillions of emails and phone calls, much of it gathered illegally.

Rather than Bibles, prophets, and worshippers [a quip about Mormons], this temple will be filled with servers, computer intelligence experts, and armed guards. And instead of listening for words flowing down from heaven, these newcomers will be secretly capturing, storing, and analyzing vast quantities of words and images hurtling through the world’s telecommunications networks.  In the little town of Bluffdale, Big Love and Big Brother have become uneasy neighbors.

Now, of course, some argue that this is all totalitarian police state stuff.  Is It?  It could be, however, I see it as more HC stuff.  Japan does this too and who says that they are a police state?  Gathering information about people is simple HC behavior.  Stealing someone’s identity is just a HC type of crime.

I, for one, don’t really like the idea that these folks can spy on me because I’m old enough to remember LC America.  At the same time, I don’t have anything to hide.  Yes, they likely could mess up my life if they were to target me by messing with information about me. They could just target me in other, more physical, ways and be more effective.

I also know that these folks really can’t use all that data to “control society”.  Thinking that they can is just another one of those silly “we are masters of the world” types of arrogant thoughts.

Information is power but it has to be useful information to leverage the power from it.  As a social scientist, I can assure you that trillions of terabits of idiosyncratic and anecdotal data will be misunderstood more often than not by any group of scientists to whom they give the task of analyzing it.  And, because of its vastness, they will survey it with sophisticated algorithms, generating more sophisticated but silly observations.  It will all sound scientific and, in the end, it will be skewed to the intents, overt and covert, of the researchers.

They won’t find truth in it; they will find what they want to find, just as social scientists have always done.  

Social scientists have never been able to master large amounts of social data.  So let them do multiple regressions on 15 variables and see what garbage they find.  There is an old name for it—PhD, piled higher and deeper.

On the other hand, I opt for the simpler observation that massive data collection is an expected HC behavior.

After all, police state totalitarianism is just as likely to be found in LC culture as it is in HC culture.  Also, I tend to think that the anxiety about police states is more a reflection of our secular crisis status than HC status.

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