Abstract for upcoming talk at Austerity Futures? seminar 4.
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.