Big Data Is Watching You! (A Comic Dystopia) by Bruce Hartman (ebook review).

November 10, 2015 | By | Reply More

Expected publication: November 10th 2015

At the very end of my e-book edition there is an important note which starts with the sentence ‘Big Data Is Watching You! is a work of satirical fiction set in a nonexistent world in the distant future.’ It might be a non-existent world but it has some striking similarities with this one. Similarities that have been extrapolated to extreme lengths in most cases. Before the main body of the story there is a note from the Chronicler (a mysterious character who pops up every now and then) to note various trademarks and their respective owners. It may surprise readers to know ‘Chicken And Egg’ are now registered trademarks and so are ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Solar System’. All other words and phrases in the book are copyrighted by another company.

Big Data Is Watching You! (A Comic Dystopia) by Bruce Hartman

Big Data Is Watching You! (A Comic Dystopia) by Bruce Hartman

This sort of sets the tone of the story as our hero, Smith, lives in Goozle Earth. Just about everything in Smith’s condo (apartment) is sending information into the ‘Cloud’. This includes his sleep patterns, weight, pulse and blood pressure sent by his mattress. The kitchen cupboards and refrigerator are also in on the act, sending out requests for supplies. Goozle Earth is a very, very connected environment where even the spoon Smith eats his cereals with has the capability to detect bad breath and take remedial action. In this case, by sending a signal to his tooth brush. Smith other minor ailments are fixed by Big Data as he makes his way to work.

Smith works as a Level 5 Publicist at Celebrity Solutions which arranges for the ritual sacrifices of Celebrities, usually by throwing them to the lions. The celebrities are famous just for being famous. They are selected and trained to imitate all time greats such as Pelvis Wrestly, Uretha Spanklin and Lady GooGoo to name a few. Now the celebrity names provide a good example of a common theme that runs throughout the book. Common names we are familiar in this Earth have similar ones in the other Earth but are slightly changed. YootTube, McRonalds, Microzoff and FakeBook are other good examples although FakeBook might be uncomfortably closer to our reality. These are just subsidiary companies of Goozle who now owns them. It’s not called Goozle Earth for nothing you see as Goozle owns the rights to just about everything.

Another aspect of Goozle Earth is that Smith shares his thoughts with his co-workers and supervisors and just about everyone else in Goozle Earth via a thought feed. Posters in Smiths workplace proclaim ‘PRIVACY IS SHARING’ and ‘FREEDOM IS CONNECTIVITY’ so its normal practice to share your thoughts. Although Goozle would seem to be ever present in Goozle Earth, there are patches in the hinterland where Goozle’s mind rays can’t penetrate. These areas are inhabited by people completely unconnected to Big Data known as Yahoos. I should probably say something about Big Data here as its been mentioned a few times. Big Data is a mythical entity revered as a god by the inhabitants of Goozle Earth. A friendly greeting amongst the inhabitants of Goozle Earth’s population is ‘Big Data is watching you!’.

Things start to go awry for Smith when he ventures outside of Goozle’s zone of influence into the hinterland and meets the unconnected Julia. She disturbs Smith, who has to contend with some emotions which have largely been banished in Goozle Earth. While its inhabitants may live forever, sex and relationships are strictly taboo and have been for a very long time. It has been so long most people have forgotten all about them. Except that is the very senior management. In this case, it is Higgs who is CEO (Caesar and Emperor Omnipotent) of the East. Being senior management, he’s exempt from the annoying aspects of Goozle’s Terms of Service which tend to be restrictive for normal people. He’s rather partial to the female members of the Junior Anti-Sex League who he brings back to his penthouse apartment.

One of the ladies Higgs becomes enamored with is O’Brian, who happens to be Smith’s boss at Celebrity Solutions. The only thing O’Brian and Smith have in common is their feelings for Higgs as he undertakes to implement his next big idea. This will have a rather immediate impact on all the inhabitants of Goozle Earth while resolving several problems faced by the business.

Some of the similarities between Goozle Earth and our humble Earth are quite striking and funny. Fakebook, for example, where people post fake photo’s to show what a wonderful holiday they have had is shared with thousands of ‘friends’ who they have never met. But it has to be said that the almost constant referencing to some trademark or well-known brand eventually becomes wearing. There are comic moments (the Customer Services representatives are very good) but not quite enough of them. I also think the plot sort of unravels at the end. Higgs implementation of his next big idea only makes sense if the inhabitants of Goozle Earth are numbered in their thousands and live very local to his penthouse. He’s also CEO of the East, so is there a CEO of the West?

There’s also a couple of other things in the story that are left unexplained. For example, Smith occasionally experiences thoughts inserted into the thought feed by someone/something. It’s never made clear where these come from. The same could also be said of the Chronicler as we don’t learn anything about this person. Smith is referred to as being stupid but this seems to be inconsistent with the character. He’s certainly had a sheltered life in Goozle Earth but that’s not the same as being stupid.

‘Big Data Is Watching You!’ will make you laugh in parts, while making you question where we as a people are going with big data. More and more of the things we do is being recorded and analysed which allows those doing the analysis to make frighteningly good predictions of what we are likely to be doing next. So there’s a humerous side and a serious side to the story but I do think its let down by the implementation of Higgs’ next big idea. What was needed was a big implementation, possibly using Big Data.

Andy Whitaker

October 2015


Category: Books, MEDIA, Scifi

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About AndyWhitaker

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties.

My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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