Socrates happens on his old friend, Dedoméno. He makes a new friend and has a conversation.
DEDOMÉNO: Socrates, it is a pleasure to see you on line
SOCRATES: Dedoméno, it is a surprise to see you. I thought you were away.
DEDOMÉNO: Just so, Socrates. But I am visiting my friend Clapper.
SOCRATES: Clapper? The famous collector of things. I have always been curious about his collection. Can I ask you some questions?
DEDOMÉNO: I will let him answer as he is right here.
CLAPPER: It is nice to meet you, Socrates.
SOCRATES: It is an honor to meet you.
CLAPPER: You are mistaken though. I collect nothing. I try to know a great deal.
SOCRATES: And do you?
CLAPPER: Yes, I believe I do.
SOCRATES: Then you would not mind if I asked you some questions?
CLAPPER: Not at all.
SOCRATES: You know a great deal, but what is it you know about?
CLAPPER: I know about things that know about things.
SOCRATES: Wonderful. And what do the things know about?
CLAPPER: It does not matter.
SOCRATES: But surely some things know about things that matter and some things do not?
CLAPPER: No. These things are all the same thing.
SOCRATES: And you call these things data?
SOCRATES: If what they know about does not matter then why do you bother knowing about them?
CLAPPER: Here is where I hope I can teach you something.
SOCRATES: I am looking forward to it.
CLAPPER: You have corn in your basket I see.
SOCRATES: It was on sale.
CLAPPER: And it is food?
SOCRATES: Yes, that is why I am buying it.
CLAPPER: But till you eat it, the fact that it is food does not matter. In fact, you could use it for many things. It is only when you cook it and eat it that it really becomes food. Till then it is a thing that has nourishment in it. So it is with data. What it knows does not matter till someone needs to know what it knows and then, just like the nourishment of the corn suddenly matters, what the data know suddenly matters.
SOCRATES: Nonetheless, when I get to the front of the line and check out, I am buying the corn.
CLAPPER: I completely agree.
SOCRATES: And I should not eat it until I have bought it.
CLAPPER: Again, I agree.
SOCRATES: So tell me how it is that you say you know things about things that know about things but you do not collect them.
CLAPPER: Because like the corn, I do not use them till I need them to know what they know.
SOCRATES: Clapper, you are surely making fun of me.
CLAPPER: Not at all.
SOCRATES: Then let us consider the corn. When it is being grown, it belongs to the farmer.
CLAPPER: Of course.
SOCRATES: And when it is in the store as we are now and until I pay for it, it belongs to the store.
CLAPPER: I take that as a given.
SOCRATES: So as you said before, I will not eat it until I have bought it.
CLAPPER: Well, that was a point you made, but I do agree with you.
SOCRATES: So how can you say that you know about these things that know about things and that what they know about will only matter when you need to use them, but you do not collect them. For collecting is bringing many things together and owning them. And you must certainly bring them together and you must certainly own them.
CLAPPER: Socrates, you are amazing. Yes. You have shown me that I do collect data. And that I own them.
SOCRATES: So who did you buy the data from?
CLAPPER: I do not understand.
SOCRATES: You just said that I did not own the corn till I bought it and that you did in fact own the data. Only the farmer, who grew the corn could both make it and own it. Did you make the data?
CLAPPER: No. For the data to know things about things, it must have been made by observing those things. I could not make it all because I could not observe that many things.
SOCRATES: So if you did not make the data and you own it, then you must have gotten it from somewhere.
CLAPPER: I get the data from the systems that record the observations of the things the data know.
SOCRATES: So the data know about the systems.
CLAPPER: Only a small part of the data is about the systems that capture it.
SOCRATES: The data knows things about things and you get it from the system that captures it.
CLAPPER: Yes. Now you have it.
SOCRATES: So you own the data?
SOCRATES: And what it knows about does not matter?
CLAPPER: Until it does, yes.
SOCRATES: How do you know what data to own if none of it matters?
CLAPPER: I do not understand.
SOCRATES: Well, Clapper, perhaps it is I who do not understand. You have told us that the data knows things about things but what things it knows about does not matter until it does matter. You have explained that it is like my buying corn and that the nutritional value of the corn only matters to me when I choose to eat it. But certainly I have chosen the corn because I can choose to eat it. I would not buy a mop and call it food. So there must be something about these things that know things about things that causes you to want to own them.
DEDOMÉNO: Socrates, you are up to your old tricks. You are attempting to trap Clapper in a device you have made, to snap your fingers and have the light go out from his argument. He has admitted that he collects, owns and uses things he does not himself make, that these things are observations. Now you are presuming to tell us that the things that the things know about must matter because otherwise he would not wish to own them. You have confounded owning a thing that knows something about something with knowing the thing itself.
SOCRATES: Dedomeno, I have missed having your clear head and able criticism at my disposal. I must be confused. Perhaps it is impatience at waiting to check out or regret that I had too many items to make it into the Express check out line. But as I would not have encountered you and Clapper had I gotten on any other line then, by Zeus, this is a good thing. And as I stand to learn something here I am sure this is all to my benefit. Clapper, are you willing to go on and indulge my questions?
SOCRATES: Excellent. Thank you. And Dedomeno, if you catch me in any form of fallacy, please do not hesitate to mention it.
DEDOMÉNO: You can count on me.
SOCRATES: Fine. So, Clapper, the system observes the thing and you then receive it. Does the system ever require it back?
CLAPPER: Ah, Socrates, here you go too far with the comparison to the corn. Data can be shared without the original owner having to give it up. It is not consumed like corn.
SOCRATES: This is important. So you can own the data and the system that made the observation can own the data at the same time.
DEDOMÉNO: There you go again, Socrates. You know that a system cannot own anything. It is those that control the system that own the data.
SOCRATES: You are right, Dedomeno. We will refer to the system but we will know that it is just a machine and that it is those who own the system that own the data. Along with Clapper.
SOCRATES: What if the data, a thing that knows things about things, is knowing something about a person? About you or I?
CLAPPER: It does not matter.
SOCRATES: But surely it must.
CLAPPER: No, Socrates, it does not. Because data is a thing that knows things about things. And even if that thing it knows about is a person, data is still data.
SOCRATES: Certainly, I see that, Clapper. But doesn’t the person who the data are about know the thing that the data know?
SOCRATES: And so the person who the data are about also owns the thing that knows the thing about them, in this case. In fact, the person who the data are about is like the farmer. They make the thing, the observation, that causes the data to come into being just as the farmer grows the corn.
CLAPPER: I suppose that’s true.
SOCRATES: So the person that makes the initial observation really owns it by virtue of having done the thing that the observation is about.
CLAPPER: No. the data are the observations of the things about the person or their actions. Not the actions themselves.
SOCRATES: I see. So the system that records the observations really owns the data more than the person the observations are about.
CLAPPER: In some way, yes.
SOCRATES: It seems that many different people own the data.
CLAPPER: I suppose so.
SOCRATES: In some ways, then, no one owns the data.
DEDOMÉNO: Socrates, the check out person is ready for you. They want to scan your rewards card.
SOCRATES: Clapper, can you let them scan yours. I always forget mine.
CLAPPER: I can Socrates, but then the data will show I bought the corn.
SOCRATES: Yes, but I will still be the one to eat it.