The New Circulations of Culture


David Beer in Berfrois:

It has become an accepted motif of the day, perhaps even a cliché, that data about our lives are captured and harvested in multifarious ways. The rise of powerful new media infrastructures has made this escalation of data harvesting possible. These infrastructures have become the backdrop to everyday life, and are virtually ubiquitous and inescapable in their scope. We live within them.

This is not really news to most: we are fairly aware of the fact that our actions have the potential to generate data. In many ways, data harvesting exists as a purely abstract concept – we know that data about us are being extracted but we are not sure in exactly what form, what they capture or how they are being used – yet it is still seen to be a material reality of everyday life. We even expect to give up some data from time to time.

But why is this? How did it happen? When we think of the data generated about us we often think big, very big in fact. Visions of data harvesting tend to conjure up images of global proportions. We might think about new forms of capitalism, monolithic commercial organisations, about transactions and information, about vast networks or databases, about powerful software and predictive analytics and even about questions of governance and political transparency. These are clearly all very important issues that need attention, but as a result of this focus we often miss the lived realities of by-product data that are to be found within the mundane routines of everyday life.