select research questions:What happens to our perception of the self and our agency when we are turned into data? What are the personal, social, and ethical consequences of aggregating and abstracting people, environments, communities, or experiences into data; How can we mitigate or avoid altogether the negative consequences while preserving or strengthening the positive ones? How does the use of physical materials as representations of data impact users’ sense of a collection and what it can, will, or should be used for?
Bureaucracy—this Modernist invention—has taught us to group individuals into categories, then translate those categories into numbers. Such numbers—data—once collected are often displayed in tables and can be represented graphically. Tables and graphs can display numbers of people and gallons of drinking water just as well as amount of revenue, waste material, cost of resources, time in production, and transportation. Manufacturers and oil companies use such data to make production decisions; and governments, regarding policies. Through the proliferation and our increased dependence on computer-based tools for access, visualization, exploration, and decision support, we have reached a state of data ubiquity. There is a simplicity—sterility—to tables of numbers, bar graphs, and databases. However, the decisions that are made based on big collections of data are anything but sterile. Some critical decisions are made in times of acute stress and within severe time constraints; and some have deeply-felt impacts on people and the environment, locally, nationally, and across the globe. In their functionality—the kinds of tasks that can be accomplished through them, the data that can be collected and accessed, how that data is represented, and what factors are considered irrelevant or critical—designers and policy makers haven’t acknowledged the practical and long-term, as well as ethical and political, implications of interfaces for data access, display, exploration, and decision making.I’m co-creating new forms of interface that leverage physicality and kinesthetic intelligence. Through the process of making, thinking, and remaking (Ingold, 2013), I am exploring the personal, social, and ethical consequences of turning people, environments, communities, or experiences into data, aggregating that data, then abstracting it graphically. My primary area of concern is with the potential of graphical data visualizations to further the dehumanization and decontextualization of the human experience. I am further concerned that certain individuals, communities, and environments are more vulnerable to what may occur subsequent to such computational translation and abstraction.