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The tension between the digital and the analog, as explored in Cramer’s “What is Post-Digital?”, is comparable to that between the power structures enacted by big data and autonomous computing and Rouvroy’s concept of virtuality. In the former, while it’s explained that popular proponents of the post-digital era often use a looser definition of “digital” and “analog”, the more stringent definition best exemplifies the sentiments of the post-digital: by digital is meant discrete and quantifiable and by analog is meant continuous and undivided. The appeal of analog media, then, is in its continuity, which lends it its air of tangibility and permanence; it is not easily abstracted and thus seems more tangible, it is not easily reconstructed and thus seems more permanent than digital media. Because the digital is so easily expressible, transformable, replicable, it appears to lack the mystery, the unfathomable glue that seems to underpin reality.
The same aspects underly Rouvroy’s concept of virtuality. Rouvroy argues that a regime of autonomous computation (whose mode of perception is big data capture) threatens what makes us fundamentally human: the notion of a human being as an entity existing through time, and that of the virtual—the essential, unquantifiable, spontaneous aspect of a human being that exists outside of herself and informs her identity and serves as a utopic destination for herself.
To the permanence of the human self: the decisions that big data have made so far and the decisions enacted by a regime informed by big data involve this very assumption; that past events can exemplify future events, and that a person’s past experiences inform her future actions. To virtuality: this construct seems in line with that of arguments for human freedom and against that of a deterministic world—humans can behave unpredictably, are therefore free agents, and retain their humanity. Of course, this seems like a game of limited information; is there was a machine or computer that could sample and correctly analyze enough data of the behavior of a human, why would a human’s actions be privileged to be unpredictable?
Predictive models are never infallible, however, and account for a level of unpredictability. It then seems that, although it’s possible to quantify human behavior, such tools only serve as an approximation, and admittedly. And so the question remains of whether anything is truly analog, or spontaneous, or unpredictable, or rather, that there has yet to be a tool capable of fully capturing, digitizing, the real, the physical, the human. Perhaps humanity’s opposition to regimes founded upon predictive models comes not from rejecting them or fearing them, but from the acceptance that complexity need not be fully irreducible to allow for (at least the semblance of) the virtual ideal self, that spontaneity informs and validates predictive systems, and that predictability does not imply determinism, but rather bolsters the rationale of a power structure that, for the sake of democracy, can be self-justifiably opposed.