I had the pleasure of presenting as part of our very own HCID Seminar Series in November. I took the opportunity of trying out some early ideas about tables, a little clumsily testing out ideas of how tables have been used in the recording of bodies, from the slave trade to the algorithmic modes of bodily accounting so pervasive today.
See the abstract for the talk below.
The act of reading across and down, through the coordinate grid, to find information is a generative act. [...]
This is not trivial, but essential, to the performative capabilities of tables.
ABSTRACT: Through a number of routes, I’ve found myself thinking about tables, the kinds of tables with columns and rows. These tables lie behind so much of the proliferation of data and computation we are witnessing in contemporary life. They are also core to much of the work we do as researchers and designers. Yet too often we neglect the lively nature of these ordering technologies (Drucker 2014). In offering a practical solution for sorting and organising pretty much anything (e.g., numbers, times, dates, names, events, journeys, bodies, etc,), we overlook how they afford and authorise very particular ways of making matter matter (e.g. Rosenthal 2018; Wernimont 2018). Take Excel. The tool’s powerful capacities for ordering items in a seemingly infinite number of rows and columns — setting various systems of organisation against one another — is in no way inert. The explicit or implied hierarchies, the categories and comparisons, the roundings up or down, the spatial and calculative transformations, etc. — altogether, they are, already, telling a story. They are, if you will, technoscientific “worldings” (Haraway 2016).
I want to use this talk as a forcing function to explore this line of thought and the relevance it might have to the design of interactive systems. For now, my view is that much is to be understood from the close examination of ‘tables-in-action’. I believe we might discover many of the assumptions and biases we have in interpreting data and conducting research by attending to what we do with our tabulating practices — practices that, at first glance, appear so neutral. With this as a starting point, my hope will be to imagine worlds otherwise. To imagine intervening in the ways we work with tables so that we might extend and multiply the worlds we make possible.
Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production. Harvard University Press, 2014.
Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.
Rosenthal, Caitlin. Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management. Harvard University Press, 2018.
Wernimont, Jacqueline. Numbered Lives: Life and Death in Quantum Media. MIT Press, 2018.
I’ve been continuing with my experimentations and thoughts on cycling, and in particular extending my reflections on my first ‘Boris Bike’ journey recorded in 2014 (see this chapter). There’ll hopefully be more to come in the coming months that tie together the space-times I traversed with other records and different accounts.
In response to a story reported via a number of news sites and exploring a thread in my own research, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Her Majesty’s Treasury on the 7th April. In brief, I requested further details on the amount paid per year to repay the Slavery Abolition Act loan, a loan taken by the UK government in 1834 to ‘compensate’ slave owners for their loss of ‘property’. Shockingly, this loan was being repaid up until 2015 by UK taxpayers.
As widely reported, in 1833 – 35  the UK government borrowed £20m, 40% of its national budget, to “recompense” slave owners for losing their “property”  — under the Slavery Abolition Act. On 9 February 2018, HM Treasury announced (via Twitter) that this loan had been paid in full. A related FOI request that HM Treasury responded to on 9 February 2018 sets the date of the loans ‘consolidation’ to be the 1 February 2015: “The 4% Consolidated Loan was redeemed on 1 February 2015” .
Under the Freedom of Information act, I request further details of this loan. Specifically, I request the annual amount paid per year since 1833 – 35.
I also request to total sum paid to repay the loan, including interest.
1. From the documentation available, it’s unclear whether the loan began in 1833 or 1835.
Having left their written response to the last day of the 20 working days usually allotted, HM Treasury replied with a somewhat muddled message offering some details, but not fully answering my request. Some equivalent to “HM Treasury does not hold information/records” was used four times in a one-page response:
“HM Treasury does not hold information within the scope of your request.”
“HM Treasury does not hold records dating from this period.”
“HM Treasury does not hold any detailed information on the structure or amounts of repayments...”
“HM Treasury does not hold information on the total interest paid...”
The letter from HM Treasury is available via WhatDoTheyKnow here.
I will be continuing this research and share any further information I’m able to obtain.
Anja Thieme, Cynthia L. Bennett, Cecily Morrison, Edward Cutrell and Alex Taylor (2018) “I can do everything but see!” – How People with Vision Impairments Negotiate their Abilities in Social Contexts.In Proceedings CHI ’18. ACM Press.
Abstract — Why is it so hard for chatbots to talk about race? This work explores how the biased contents of databases, the syntactic focus of natural language processing, and the opaque nature of deep learning algorithms cause chatbots difficulty in handling race-talk. In each of these areas, the tensions between race and chatbots create new opportunities for people and machines. By making the abstract and disparate qualities of this problem space tangible, we can develop chatbots that are more capable of handling race-talk in its many forms. Our goal is to provide the HCI community with ways to begin addressing the question, how can chatbots handle race-talk in new and improved ways?
Abstract — This research takes an orientation to visual impairment (VI) that does not regard it as fixed or determined alone in or through the body. Instead, we consider (dis)ability as produced through interactions with the environment and configured by the people and technology within it. Specifically, we explore how abilities become negotiated through video ethnography with six VI athletes and spectators during the Rio 2016 Paralympics. We use generated in-depth examples to identify how technology can be a meaningful part of ability negotiations, emphasizing how these embed into the social interactions and lives of people with VI. In contrast to treating technology as a solution to a ‘sensory deficit’, we understand it to support the triangulation process of sense-making through provision of appropriate additional information. Further, we suggest that technology should not try and replace human assistance, but instead enable people with VI to better identify and interact with other people in-situ.
“... can we be better than who we are, can we be other than who we are?”
I’ve been trying to think about capability for a little while and trying to make sense of how we become able. What I’ve wanted to get away from is an idea of ability that we feel defined or limited by — the presumed limits of ability dictated, supposedly, by our bodily and mental capacities.
Today I came across this lovely video of and by the artist William Kentridge. He expresses so much of what has engaged me in this subject matter, but with such eloquence and so vividly.
Finally posted some flyers to announce the launch of the big data project we’ll run for a year. We hope to work with the residents and proprietors on Tenison Road in Cambridge to better understand how big data matters and what people on the street want it to be. This is a project that is aiming to get at the interminglings of data and locality, and to intervene in the entanglements in productive ways. That’s the hope! ... Fingers crossed.