— Apr 2014
The Greeks knew a thing or two about obsession.
A couple of people I know are at the Data Drama conference this weekend — the host, Liam Young, describes it as a discussion about “the spatial possibilities and consequences of big data and the network”. Ingrid, in particular, has been tweeting up a stream that I suggest following, because I’m just going to riff off of her below.
(These aren’t new ideas nor even better descriptions of existing ones, they just haven’t coalesced for me until now.)
Half the obsession with data (the civic, internet-of-things, quantified-self kind) is the promises of capital-t truth — that the only obstacles are of political will and the right algorithms to extract it.
Algorithms are basically potions— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
It doesn’t surprise me that Athena became the patron saint of judges, diplomats, strategists, and planners, recasting her over and over for claims to enlightenment.
But it did surprise me that many writers consider Athena and Medusa to be polar opposites. It’s this tension, that you can’t look directly at the thing, only by proxy of the mirrored shield, that seems especially relevant when talking about digesting raw information into decision-making.
Yesss yesss Borges reference yesss— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
Because calling it a mirror is problematic. It makes data passive, merely an instrument of the laws of physics. This is what the NSA was arguing at its core. But data collection and storage is neither neutral nor something that just happens. Someone decided it’s worth the investment to build a data center.
"Our cities are being structured around this concept of being a problem to be solved" #datadrama— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
Data as instrument of plausible deniability in city planning, all things #datadrama— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
In the 1950s and 60s, urban blight started being used in conjunction with urban renewal. In hindsight, we can see through the veneer of impartiality in the ways planners identified blight. Robert Moses weaponized his measurements to demolish neighborhoods and disenfranchise the poor, his data did nothing to stop him when his freeways and bypasses made problems worse.
The overlap between transportation design/policy and law enforcement/natsec policy are super compelling and underexplored— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
There are numerous issues I have with Jane Jacobs, but her greatest accomplishment was in separating blight from poverty.
Legibility and folklore together, pure neoliberal fantasy? cc @aburv— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 4, 2014
Seeing Like A State is helpful as a crash course to understanding the many ways to centralize power. But the central concept of legibility in the book, I find myself using less and less. Legibility works when you talk about things you control and own. You use it for handwriting. When it comes to people, the word you want is representation.
And when you don’t have it, when there isn’t consent, that is surveillance.
Seeing Like A Server— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 4, 2014
I won’t pretend that representation equates to some enlightened state of democracy. (Not to mention that the Athenians’ idea of democracy excluded vast swaths of their society.) But it does sum up these issues I see being raised about who owns this data, who has access to it, and how one can change it.
"We can't talk about it all [surveillance] at the level of code" #datadrama— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
Because it should not take legal action to challenge being mistakenly added to a no-fly list. And when it takes nine years of pre-trial motions and you’re not allowed to attend the trial, something is horribly, systematically wrong.
Because corporations should not be able to share your information, whether it’s to the government or to third-party advertisers, without first providing you extensive details.
Julian: "you're almost always on private property when you're online." #datadrama— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
We must stop equating being on private property with waiving all rights to representation and personhood. When you rent an apartment, you gain certain protections against eviction and the invasion of privacy. Your landlord gains certain protections against you endangering others and the building.
It’s long past time we start asking the same for our data.
"We're not supposed to know where *we* are when we look at images of the internet" #datadrama— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 4, 2014
THE CLOUD IS (STILL) NOT THE TERRITORY— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
That’s why I suspect the discussion of how the network (and our data on it) gets represented is important. The cloud is light and diffuse, it’s available to all. It makes claims to access and ownership that are patently false.
Yes yes yes comparing data center's lack of public face to the Bonneville dam, I am FOR this #datadrama— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 4, 2014
If we sublimate away the cloud, we can have far more useful (and interesting!) metaphors. Water is more real in many ways, it has a far richer set of associations: it can be bottled and sold, can be contaminated upstream, it’s part of a larger water table. There are places more prone to drought or flood, it can be dammed and irrigated. It can be hidden.
Also really want to prepare a talk on how Welcome to Nightvale is the perfect reflection of our times— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014
It’s useful to talk about this stuff in a fanciful way, if only because it distances us. We must travel for perspective, to understand the absurdity of it all.
This conference rules, we're talking about magic— Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning) April 5, 2014