Data is the go …

24 11 2011

painting by Ellen-Rae Cachola, November 2011

Data is the go to for solutions for our problems. Track instances of a recurring phenomenon to study the trends.  It will help to show patterns of something.  Then we can evidence to the relevant legal, political or economic systems, in a language that they consider understandable, that they need to do something to change or react to the patterns. But is that really an effective way to express our grievances?

What is data but a representation. A limited representation at that.  Technology can capture inputted data through keyboards, or sensors tracking temperature, weight, light, vibration, which are then translated into numerical codes, that can be kept in computer memory and visualization systems. Data presentations allows us to count how many times an instance of a particular phenomenon occurred.  But, as we know, reality is not just a particular instance.  Reality is the interplay of multiple instances occurring simultaneously at once.  Wind blows as the heat of the sun beats on our skin, warming us, as we drive on the free way that weighs how many cars are at 9am on the 10 freeway.  Who are those that are driving but people going somewhere: work, school, appointments, meetings… they are meeting daily tasks, in this society of go, go, go!  Data can also be complex in showing the interplay across multiple phenomenon, so we can make complex causal analyses.

But what is not being seen in our representation?  Computer systems are generally composed of servers, keyboard, monitors, applications, cables and wires to connect the various hardwares.  There are also the resources needed to be mined from the earth, laws and economic policies that had to be passed to allow the tractor to be on a piece of earth to dig up minerals.  There needs to be laws and economic policies to allow the factory to be built for the minerals to be transported to into some kind of electronic device, such as the chip, or the computer hardware it would be encased in.  There needs to be the people displaced from their land to make way for the mining, and turned into wage laborers to work in the factory for some kind of money.  The future they hope for is that through the wage they earn, they can afford to send their children to school, so they can possibly touch the computer, a product that they have played some role in making.  So their child can become some kind of scientist or important political or legal person, to further this pattern of resource extraction and tool manufacturing, as it is the trend toward legal order and economic progress.  What is being not seen is the impact of data truths, and its dependence on technological manufacturing, that also impact ecological,  social and imaginative systems.

As the world is protesting trade liberalization and corrupt national government priorities, the world, particularly the developed world, is also becoming highly data and technological dependent. The laws and economic policies that oppress people to rise up are caused by their tailoring by corporate entities who are involved in the distributed production of various aspects of technological dependence–from the microchips, to the applications, to the hardware, to the software, to the copper, to the labor, to the education, to the culture, to all the myriad platforms that are necessary to allow us to touch an electronic device, and connect with our friends and families on that electronic device.  The fact that many of us in developed worlds can connect our off-line human networks in online spaces reveals that we have been effectively integrated into a system of technological dependence.  This technological dependence is what drives the demand for corporations and markets producing technologies. As we use it, they will come.  As we use it, we give it energy to prove their need, through the data of how many consumers buy their object that they track in data.  Through the data of economic metrics that say people who use technology are driving capitalism forward as it is pulling people from underdeveloped traditional living practices into factories, and jobs, to make our little devices for our information needs in developed parts of the world.  But as people refuse to have their land and cultures taken away by corporations, they rise up and resist.  The technological dependent ones wonder why or sympathesize, and some even take action in solidarity.  But it strange how we resist in systems that we are embedded in, and that we continue to push forward, through our very participation, as we are complicit and resistant in the production the problem.

The point of this is to talk about data, and our dependence on it, as it appears to be a solution to things.  Just provide more data so it can be stronger evidence to make an argument to the state apparatuses that govern our society.  But these apparatuses of law, economy and socialization listen to what they understand, which is how to capitalize off what they hear, as capitalism is the value system that allows these to exist.  These apparatuses listen and talk in numbers.  Data is thus legible to them as it is translating the complexity of reality into numbers.  But, the other facet is that we participate in supporting data through our advocacy of it as truth making, and our over-zealous use of technology to produce this type of truth, without recognizing the social and ecological effects of this pursuit for truth. Data is a limited type of representation of truth. It depends on whole apparatuses of particular orders that pretends to be universal, the totality of reality, but it is not.  The other big part of the solution is still to be mined—i mean, not mined, but perhaps felt and experienced, as you stop, before going on that teleological march toward truth.




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