Data, Transparency, and How Learning is Deposited

In his novel The Circle, Dave Eggers tells the story of a not-so-future world where technology companies increasingly blend into political and social life.  Ever eager to change the world, the executives of the book’s titular company, The Circle, create an aquarium with various species and introduce a rare transparent shark to see how its presence affects the ecosystem.

Victor released the shark, and, as if it had been eyeing its prey through the plastic, mentally preparing its mean and knowing the precise location of each portion, its meal and knowing the precise location of each portion, the shark darted downward and quickly snatched the largest tuna and devoured it in two snaps of its jaws. As the tuna was making its way, visibly, through the shark’s digestive tract, the shark ate two more in rapid succession. A fourth was still in the shark’s jaws when the granular remains of the first were being deposited, like snow, onto the aquarium floor.

Mae looked then to the bottom of the tank and saw that the octopus and the seahorse progeny were no longer visible. She saw some sign of movement in the holes in the coral, and caught sight of what she thought was a tentacle. Through Mae seemed sure that the shark couldn’t be their predatory–after all, Stenton found them all in close proximity–they were hiding from it as if they knew it, and its plans, quite well. Mae looked up and saw the shark circling the tank, which was now otherwise empty. In the few seconds that Mae had been looking for the octopus and seahorses, the shark had disposed of the other two fish. Their remains fell like dust.

As education (and society) becomes increasingly mediated by digital technologies and data systems, it merits asking what it is that must be done to the complexities of daily life to render data.  In the name of transparency, accountability, and choice, what is lost, what is gained, and what falls like dust?

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