Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature
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Some words on data

October 10th, 2014 | Posted by Cathy Li in Uncategorized

The internet should always be related to quantified data tracking. As for why the internet should be accounted for this, we need to examine why we are quantified tracked in the first place. Reading tracking and other types of tracking should date back to the first human who wrote/drew something down. However, the revolution that led to a significant amount of quantification of matter is the science/technology/information revolution that has been taking place for more than 200 years. Quantifying things enables human to better control the environment and reverse the advantage-disadvantage relation between us and the environment. For example, it is much more reliable for engineers to design in AutoCad instead of drawing on paper. Quantification is useful and that’s why we are doing it. So back to the topic of why we are being quantified tracked, we now clearly see that the companies like Google and Facebook can very well utilize the data that we put in and generate what they need in order to keep the company running. It is the internet that delivers our information to the “Siren Servers”. Hence, the quantified tracking must be related to the internet. Exceptions are in cases where the data generated by the person is also used by the person himself/herself (people who want to know how many words exactly he/she reads in an hour) but those cases don’t concern our privacy and reality alteration talks.

Using a personalized device is not completely culpable just from the stance that we have all used it and enjoyed it to some extent. The practice makes us happy and keep using the personalized product, which is a win-win situation from which any human-based project is expected. However, concerns are raised because people worry that their privacy are violated and their understanding of the world is altered by the internet. Well, true that Google delivers what we want to see and Facebook never tells us who just unfriended us, it is also true that it is not practical to ask for complete truth or all facts from the internet because it is afterall a human-based project. The internet only delivers truths reducible axiomatically and the axioms would still come from us. When answering questions like “What is the most popular icecream on earth?”, the internet is only able to deliver the answer that satisfies our intellectual curiosity and provides us with closure, because there is not even an answer outside interenet. If someone has conducted a global survey on such question and did not keep the result secret, then Google should be able to find that. That’s what Google does, it gathers data but it does not generates data from nothing.

And this brings back to the discussion of the materiality of data. Well, in fact, there is a huge problem of the “material versus immaterial” language but we can continue the discussion without overthrowing the theme. We consider data as ‘0’s and ‘1’s and if anyone asks further what ‘0’s and ‘1’s are, he/she doesn’t want an easy answer. The method of obtaining binaries is to set a boundary and say what’s on one side is ‘0’ and the other ‘1’. In computer systems, the boundary is usually a voltage reading; in “pass/fail” classes, the boundary is a score. Therefore, one can say that there must be some materiality there for us to set the boundary. And hence the computers, wires, pipes, and optical fibres all exist tangibly to generate and deliver the ‘0’s and ‘1’s. In a way, the ‘0’s and ‘1’s might as well be anything: apples and oranges, voltage above 5 volts and voltage below 5 volts, likes and dislikes. There is no meaning of data without asking what the data set is about.

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