“My name is Legion, for we are many”

Data is frightening, especially Big Data, and when you realize how it is used by so many…that’s the worst. However, there are not enough queries regarding whether or not it has to be this way. There is a constant identification of problems with little follow up. Are we bound to let ethical data usage slip out of fingers?

There are many good arguments and points about the nature of data and the problems that are continually being uncovered, but there seems to be much less for solutions and synthesis. In addition, there is also the problem that most people have no idea what data is, let alone what might be collected.

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He continues, “we are not made subject but, referencing philosopher Rosi Braidotti, made ‘as if’ subject. To tease an example to come, a user is not a citizen of the U.S., but a user is ‘as if’ a U.S. ‘citizen’ on the basis of the NSA’s algorithmic interpretation of her data” (Cheney-Lippold 154). Therein lies the issue: organizations, whether the NSA or Facebook, are producing a social body rather than describing a social reality.

While it is empirically possible to define a “man” it is not so simple to do so for an actual person. we are told nothing about how we encounter the living, breathing, data-producing counterpart. Agency and ownership of our digital selves is lost to probability assessments and massive dragnets.

Ownership is a concept central to most 21st century debates and dilemmas, it would seem. Data is undeniably valuable, a fact that most people acknowledge, yet we have so little knowledge and control over how it functions (as we have discussed earlier).

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St. Louis Map Room (a project of Thorp’s) allowed participants to use analog and digital technologies to collectively author 60 to 100 large scale transmedia maps that express their lives and realities in the city.

 

Now what about solutions? Well, it’s unfortunately not so simple. Data artist Jer Thorp believes that it begins with individuals taking ownership of their data and taking the opportunity to educate themselves on what is being taken from them and what are they giving up. We ought to take more time to use our data for our own ends. Be conscious of what something like Facebook or, to be timely, Cambridge Analytica is doing with these massive, ever expanding collections.

One way to move down this path is to make data more human. This is something that Thorp strives to do, and it’s something that I like to think about and try as well. There is a great potential for data to be used to tell very human stories, paint beautiful (and educational) images, and take ownership of contexts.

There is an inescapable attachment to the human systems which produce data that is overlooked by all parties. In our current data lives “institutions are disassembled, meaning becomes multiple, and individuals lose their idealized autonomy and authorship of life” (Cheney-Lippold 172). We have the ability to turn this around and, rather than be disassembled and abstracted by data indices, deconstruct and interrogate the institutions and structures which are set to “evaluate” us.

Data is frightening, but it doesn’t have to be.

 

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