๐Ÿ’ฌ Data isn’t oil, so what is it?

Replied to Data isn’t oil, so what is it? by Matt Locke (How To Measure Ghosts)

Perhaps then weโ€™d understand how we can handle this data in a more responsible way. A metaphor that puts our personal experience at the forefront will help us find out where to draw lines in how our lives are stored and processed, and to understand that the lines will need to be different for different people. I donโ€™t know what the right metaphor is – memory and history are the concepts Iโ€™ve been mulling over, but they have already been used in computing in ways that blur and dull them.

Matt, I am really intrigued your point about effective metaphors. I really liked John Philpin’s suggestion of data as energy:

Imagine if every single person on the planet had their own dashboard that allowed them to indicate their needs, desires, wants and flag it so that anyone who felt that they could satisfy those needs, desires and wants could respond with an offer human-readable terms of the contract, pricing, expected timelines, etc.

However, the problem with ‘energy’ as a metaphor is that it just does not stick. I think that data as people struggles in the same way.

All these metaphors imagine public data as a huge, passive, untapped resources – lakes of stuff that only has value when it is extracted and processed. But this framing completely removes the individual agency that created the stuff in the first place. Oil is formed by millions of years of compression and chemical transformation of algae and tiny marine animals (sorry, not dinosaurs). Data is created in real time, as we click and swipe around the internet. The metaphor might work in an economic sense, but it fails to describe what data is as a material. Itโ€™s not oil, itโ€™s people.

I therefore wonder what the ‘hole in the ozone layer’ might be?

2 responses on “๐Ÿ’ฌ Data isn’t oil, so what is it?”

  1. Energy is a really nice idea, but I think it’s just as abstract as ‘data’. We need something more visceral, and something that evokes the emotions that storing all our data can evoke. For me, the problem with surveillance capitalism is not only privacy, but history – there is a responsibility for caring for our personal histories that just doesn’t seem to be on the platforms radar at the moment.


  • Aaron Davis

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