Talk at “Austerity Futures?”

Abstract for upcom­ing talk at Aus­ter­i­ty Futures? sem­i­nar 4.
houses long B&W [Big] data futures, from the street.
Sto­ries about big data are every­where. We’re being told how sig­nif­i­cant the impact of big data will be on our lives by all kinds of peo­ple in the know. And yet I’ve been grap­pling with what (big) data might real­ly mean to peo­ple who aren’t ful­ly signed up mem­bers of the digerati, those shapers, mak­ers and mod­ers of tech­no­log­i­cal futures. I’ve pon­dered, in short, on two sim­ple ques­tions: how does data mat­ter to ‘peo­ple on the street’, and how might they want it to mat­ter. In this talk, I’ll reflect on a project we’ve been build­ing up at Microsoft Research to begin work­ing through these ques­tions. I want to dis­cuss our efforts to ground a tech­no­log­i­cal imag­i­nary in ordi­nary life or, to put it anoth­er way, to enable a pro­duc­tive re-imag­in­ing of ‘big data futures’—to coin a phrase—from ‘the street’. I’ll describe how we’ve tak­en this chal­lenge quite lit­er­al­ly. Just over three weeks ago we began work­ing with one street in Cam­bridge, Teni­son Road. For at least a year, we plan to think through what data means for the Teni­son Road com­mu­ni­ty and in some cas­es to enable ways for the com­mu­ni­ty to inter­vene in the future imag­i­nar­ies. Although this won’t be a talk or for that mat­ter a project about aus­ter­i­ty, I cer­tain­ly think it is one in which aus­ter­i­ty and its reper­cus­sions will come to mat­ter. My aim, then, will be to reflect on how this is a project con­cerned with futures, futures that are heav­i­ly con­cen­trat­ed in the minds of the tech­no­log­i­cal elite, but also some that are more pedes­tri­an that might just offer alter­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties for what (big) data could mean and what we might do with it.
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