I have a new article ‘Data Motility: The Materiality of Big Social Data’ published in the journal Cultural Studies Review. It is in the special issue ‘Coding Labour’ edited by Esther Milne and Anthony McCosker. The article originated at a conference held back in November 2012 at Swinburne University in Melbourne Australia. The special issue features Jussi Parikka, Rowan WIlken, Anna Munster and Ned Rossiter, among others. It is most excellent and very much worth a read.
My article examines the material ecosystem of big social data: the kind of data we generate, the computational environment in which it is processed,and the third parties accessing and aggregating our data. It offers conceptual framing for the way in which the data we generate circulates almost wholly autonomously of our control, through an almost exclusively proprietary environment.It asks whether this makes us merely generators of value for digital enterprise (or indeed targets of pervasive surveillance by the security state) or whether there is more progressive cultural and political potential therein.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to Transmediale 2014, the Berlin-based festival of art and digital culture to speak. On January 31st I spoke on the panel ‘The Uses and Abuses of Big Data’ along with Jussi Parikka (http://jussiparikka.net/), Kate Crawford (http://www.katecrawford.net/), and Paolo Cirio (http://www.paolocirio.net/). My paper was entitled ‘Big Social Data: Potential Invented By New Relations?’ and it critically examines the social data we generate with our mobile devices. I ask whether it can function as anything other than surveillance fodder for the NSA/GCHQ or potential surplus value for the information economy?
Here is a link to our panel. My co-presenters Jussi, Kate and Paolo are all very dynamic thinkers and provide wide-ranging insights into big data. Plus the video is in HD!
In my talk I propose the ‘digital human’ as a way of theorising our data-rich contemporary condition and better understanding our constitutive relationship with technology. I also draw on concepts from the French philosopher Gilles Simondon as a means for thinking through our contemporary state of being wherein we are in a collective state of data excess. The challenge is in accessing our own ‘big social data’ outside the proprietary platforms in which they are generated. I conclude by suggesting that we face a fundamental cultural, political and economic challenge in moving beyond our current state of generating unprecedented amounts of personal data over which we have precious little control.
In short, just like a snow-laden slope pre-avalanche, we all generate social data that collectively situates us in what Simondon calls “this initial supersaturation of being.” Right now this state of profound potential is primarily being actualised by capital and the security state. Collectively, however, this potential could be actualised in very different ways through new relations. One of the reasons we are undertaking our research is through a shared belief that big social data can be more than a source of profit for Facebook or digital surveillance. We hope that our research is making a modest contribution to getting there by critically examine and working through our own social data and the ecosystem through which it circulates and is processed.
Today marks my overdue introduction to this blog. My name is Mark Coté and I an the Co-Investigator of our AHRC-funded ‘Our Data Ourselves’ research project. I am also Programme Director of the MA in Digital Culture and Society at King’s College London, where we are also undertaking our research. Along with our Principal Investigator Tobias Blanke, and Research Associates Jennifer Pybus and Giles Greenway, we will be posting updates on our research as well as related reflections. We are always interested in the ideas and research of others and hope this can also function dialogically. So please if you are interested or provoked by what you read, please do let us know. Thanks.