Social Cooling

I coined the term “social cooling” to help a wider audience understand the long-term negative side-effects of living in a data driven society. The issue is that digital systems greatly amplify social pressure, which could lead to more conformity.

The website socialcooling.com explains how the data that is gathered about us, through cookies, Facebook likes, smart devices, and so forth, is all being aggregated and turned into profiles which contain thousands of ‘reputation scores’. These scores are very valuable to the customers of ‘databrokers’, as they offers insight into not just the marketing opportunities, but also the risks that a citizens may pose.

As we become more aware of these systems, we will start to change our behavior. Already there is the rise of “click fear” (“klikvrees”), where people hesitate to click on links because they are afraid ‘someone’ will remember it, and it may look bad.

The end result is a subtle social pressure to conform, which is already increasing self-censorship and growing a culture of risk-aversion.

Just as big oil lead to global warming, big data can lead to social cooling.

The comparison also offers hope: just like with oil we will be able to become less dependent on big data. It will take time for society to grasp the problem, and more time to fix it. This may look like a daunting or even impossible task now, but just like with oil we will get there in the end!

In the media

Reddit, MetafilterThe Guardian, Observer. A video item was made for ABC News.

In 2020 it suddenly became the 37th most discussed post on Hackernews with over 1000 comments.

Talks and workshops

I have given countless talks on the subject. These presentations have typically energized audiences, with many questions and heataed debates afterwards. After a moment of shock that things have already gotten this bad, people are always very positive about learning more about this issue, and how we can engage it.

I give talks ranging from just 15 minutes all the way to talks+workshops which can take two hours. Humor is always a core element.

A related project is www.mathwashing.com