Question 351 of 365: Should we ask for database access?

Databases are magic.

The front end of every website that you go to is based upon a layer of databases working hard in the background. Each database holds the keys to your passwords and to your conversations. They are the places that context is captured and value is assessed. With a simple query of a well organized database you can archive more information than you could ever hope to understand. They are magic because they let everything that we do connect to everything else. They are also magic because almost no one knows how to understand them.

Even database experts have to sit down with intense documentation in order to figure out how tables function and how information is being written and rewritten. We never see the databases that make Facebook function or gmail work. We just expect them exist and do the things that we want. In essence, the database is the man behind the curtain. We must never know what the real nature of our reality. We must never see the rules that are being outlined by the formatting of fields.

We must simply go by and use the API’s that companies open up for us. We must only look at the data that is presented and not pull it for ourselves. We must attach meaning only to the information that is given and not to the millions upon millions of searchable fields that could be open to us if someone would just let us in.

The front end is fine for most of us. Most of us are not interested in seeing how our social networks actually manipulate our information. Most of us couldn’t care less about not being able to match up users to uses or friends to functions. And yet, I think we should ask anyway.

I think that we should ask every service that we encounter if we can take a look in the back room. I think we should be able to demand that they reveal the infrastructure that is at work and the processes that will define the future of our data.

I don’t want to simply be able to export. I want to be able to manipulate and massage. I want to be able to see just how my information is affected by everyone else’s. I want to be able to measure the network affect and search through what influence really measures up to be. In short, I want co-own everything that I have shared and all that has been shared with me. I want to write a query to show my engagement and then see how it fits in with the rest of what I have created. I want to see the whole spectrum of my interaction, I want the full picture of who I have been online.

And that can only happen if I get access to the database. It can only happen if I can see the back end of every application I use. It can only happen if I have a relationship with my data that allows me to manipulate it on a level that is independent from the uses that others have invented.

I want to be the architect and archivist. And I want everyone else to be the same. Security, copyright, privacy and intelectual property issues issues aside, I want access to manipulate the world’s data. Are we getting closer or farther away from that ideal?

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0 Comments

  1. You’re going to want to write me off as quaint for this. Still, bear with me.

    I don’t want this.
    I don’t want this, not because I’m choosing ignorance, but because I need to trust.
    Intentional or not, asking to see the back room all the time implies I’m not trusting enough to do what I came to do without worrying I’m being taken for a ride.
    I get there are arguments to be made for the creativity that’s possible when we see the system from the other side. I understand that trust can and often is easily misplaced.
    I get those things, but I still want to trust.
    I need to be able to trust.
    I would welcome any parent in to my classroom to observe class and make certain his or her child is receiving a quality education. But, I don’t want them to feel like they need to watch me teach. I need the agreement of trust between us to act as the oath of trustworthiness.
    When Watergate broke, it signaled a tidal change of the level of trust the American people put in their leaders. Even the most upstanding were suddenly suspect.
    I need to be able to trust that what I see up front is what I believe it to be in back, if for no other reason than to free me to worry about the things needing more thorough investigation.

    1. Trust is one thing, but I am energized by the idea of doing my own queries
      on my own data. I want to be able to search mine (and the world’s) data and
      write interesting subsets of ideas that I can pull as often as I like. I
      want to be able to save personal information and construct my own social
      graph however I decide. Just by having access to the database, we would be
      able to restructure how everything fits together. Yes, I want to keep
      everything in check, but more than that, I want free access to data. All of
      it.

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