WHICH DATA AM I, WHICH DATA ARE WE

WHICH DATA AM I, WHICH DATA ARE WE
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We are living through an information and social revolution, a massive storytelling experiment: it has never been easier to share information, and yet information about the social - particularly social data - is often denied, as such data is privately owned, incomprehensible to the non-specialist, silenced or eliminated. Data is being employed to accelerate prevalent neoliberal redefinitions of the role of the state and the transformations of citizenship into consumer practices. In this context, discussions of data are instrumentalized or limited on how data can be used to generate wealth, improve efficiencies, and encourage entrepreneurialism. This new paradigm relies heavily on automated software to collect, and analyze data.

People now embrace a new form of the social, one that is technologically mediated and more apt to fit within market principles: this version of the social is new and radically different from its previous unmarketable version. This new version is inseparable from data collection and management. A piece of data is a piece of factual information: date of birth, age, gender, geographic coordinates, a time stamp, what was said at one time, and so on. Big data is about establishing relations between all these different facts and moments. In other words, it’s about managing data and transforming it into usable and sellable knowledge. The data paradigm thus requires systems for data collection, data storage, data retrieval, data processing, and finally the transformation of correlated data into usable information. So, for instance, age and shopping habits might not mean much by themselves, but correlated with other people’s age and shopping habits, will help establish a specific consumer profile that is valuable for marketing companies.

Compromised Data - from Social Media to Big Data (Editor(s): Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois, Joanna Redden)

This is also facilitated by our acceptance of government and business use of our data. This acceptance, as argued by van Dijck (2014) can be in part be explained by the gradual “datafication” in our daily lives, as our social exchanges and relations increasingly became encoded, quantified, and commodified and used to track, target, and predict individual and social behaviour.

As previously mentioned, Big Data is basically useful data, and Big Data needs to be embedded in a pattern where multiple actors share the same factor. In this scenario, usefulness becomes profit. People love to generalize, and algorithms do that as well: algorithms need to generalize in order to exist. But we were wondering: what kind of information is ignored? What is being ignored by the eye unceasingly looking for collective dynamics and information flows? Where is the unusefulness in an algorithmic world?

Data is not a mirror of the social; it implies the abstraction of everything from thoughts, emotions, and facts into sets of computable symbols. What is being compromised into such a translation? What is lost when the richness and complexity of the social is abstracted into data? Further, the choice of data- what gets collected - also raises the question of what is being compromised.

Where one single data needs another one to be compared or associated with, the individual is what is useless. In an age where social media are shaped in order to transmit apparent empowerment and self-expression to a user, the individual is engulfed in void when taken out of that contest: in the same way, an ethologist that wants to understand migratory flows would have no idea on how to achieve meaning from the observation of one single swallow.

Foucault position on neo-liberalism is well known, observing the transformation of all that does not fit into economic principles into a question of crime and punishment. Crime and punishment is definitely not the case, but in a world of instant gratification, the promise of fame is rewarded with non-consideration by the establishment. 

Deleuze reminds us that lines of subjectivation mean that the "Self in by no means a pre-existing determination which one finds ready-made." Rather, the line of subjectivation is a process, a production of subjectivity in a social apparatus [dispositif]: it has to be made, inasmuch as the apparatus allows it come into being or make it possible". The Self is thus "a process of individuation which bears on groups and people, and is subtracted from the power relations which are established as constituting forms of knowledge [savoirs]: a sort of surplus-value" (Deleuze 1992: 161)

In this context, even if extremely stereotyped and suffocated under layers and layers of power and standardization, the individual seems to emerge like a little miracle, as strong and stubborn as the power of nature. Even if I try as hard as I can to look, sound, act like someone else, my data will always be unique. No one will have my same data the same way no one else will carry my same exact genes.