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Data, the world, me and you

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A thought experiment

Look out the window.  What do you see?

Now imagine looking out the window again in ten minutes.  Do you expect to see the ground, the earth, in the same place?

Now imagine you live in ‘earthquake country’.  And imagine if you were asked the same questions there.

Just by being there, you would probably be a lot more aware of the geology beneath the earth’s crust, the moving of magma and tectonic plates; and conscious of the distinct possibility that in ten minutes, in any ten minutes, the earth may not look like it is as it is now.  How do we live in a world where the earth beneath our feet is unstable?

Paying attention to dynamics

In a dynamic world, clearly, we pay attention to dynamics, to movement, and to change.   In a dynamic world, we do our best to understand how things work, and why things work the way they do.  If we can, we even collect data and work out the probabilities of events that we fear.

But no matter how good our research is, we cannot foretell exactly when events will happen.  That is not in our gift.  Yet an interesting thing happens.

In our determination to look at what we can keep stable, we have constructed a whole new world: a world of data.  And in our desire for stability, we often act as if world is stable and if the data system is stable.  Yet, we have already established that the world is not stable and it is dynamism, good and bad, which interests us. What if our data systems are unstable too?  How can we think about data as something unstable.

Dynamic world, dynamic data

What does it mean to say the data is dynamic?  Can we think of our data not as a mirror, say as showing a car moving behind us, but as something dynamic itself?  What would it mean to think of data itself as dynamic?

If we had the power to think of the world as static, when it is not, clearly, we have the power to formulate models of data in any way we choose, or least, collectively choose.  And one choice is to interrogate the stability of our data rather than simply assert the stability of our data.

Instead of fixing the relationship between the world and our data in an formula or an algorithm, we can think about our sense-making more artistically in which we think about the unpredictability and variability of the world.

  • What happens when we bring data, nature and our actions together?
  • How does this become a collective and shared experience?
  • How do our new layered stories become important not just to us but also to nature?

In this way, through understanding how we pay attention to our world, we may understand our world better.


The inspiration and most of the content was taken from

Ballard, S., Mitew, T., Law, J. & Stirling, J.  (2016).  Data natures and aesthetics of prediction.  Proceedings og teh 22 International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA 2016, Hong Kong.






Published in Alternative Methodologies RESEARCH


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