For Allan Varela, the issue of big data -- the way information about our lives and our interests is gathered by companies and governments -- was big enough to start recording music again.
Though Varela is best known in the area these days as the chairman of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, throughout the '70s and '80s he led the band Varela. Now, he has launched a project, Varelativity, with a new song about big data fittingly called "1984" (Sunlost).
"I think we do need to raise awareness," says Varela, calling from his Port Jefferson Station home. "We can't just keep ignoring the issue. I really felt that we need to take this on."
In "1984," Varela asks, "Big Brother's knocking upon your back door and just what do you think they will find?" over a synthesized '80s beat.
Varela says he recognizes that the complex issue is far from black and white. However, he thinks the debate about weighing privacy concerns against safety issues is needed.
"The NSA is using our taxpayer money to do this," he says of National Security Agency monitoring. "They are storing everything that happens in terms of data because, the way they see it, it is easier to find the needle if you have the whole haystack. But is that even legal?"
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Varela constructed the "1984" video as a puzzle to get people involved in the issue. "If you make it a little fun, I think people pay more attention," he says, adding that he has talked to several colleges about using the YouTube video as some sort of teaching tool to spur discussion.
"We've been dealing with this issue since Plato," Varela says. "But we should still ask the question: 'Are we going in a good direction?'"