Data is never raw

In today’s New York Times there was an article that proclaimed that data “is a vital raw material of the information economy, much as coal and iron ore were in the Industrial Revolution.” At least this is the conclusion reached based on a forthcoming study.  The only challenge seems to be figuring out how to process this new raw material.

The only problem is that data is never raw. It doesn’t just spring fully-formed from CPUs. It is always ‘cooked’ in some way by the technologies that capture and collect it, by the designers who choose to configure those technologies to collect certain kinds of data in certain ways, and by the people who use them – or perhaps choose to subvert them.

It thus seems that the challenge ‘raw data’ presents for those of us who study the social implications of technologies is to make visible the ways in which data is constructed – and the implications this messy human constructedness might have when it is used.

2 thoughts on “Data is never raw

  1. I cannot agree more. Two things come to mind when I hear people make those kinds of claims (or that claim is enmeshed in their logics). First, those individuals do not understand how technology is made, or how decisions made by the hardworking engineers as they pour in their blood, sweat, and tears of individuals coding, crafting, and making decisions about what an amorphous technology and design. They fail to see the constructedness of technology. The other thought is technology is becoming so second natured or “natural” that we oftened forget the constructedness of it, and how that which can be computationally and processeually easily to account for often becomes the thing that matters. the first is a problem of understanding the second is a problem of forgetting.

    Anyway, nice post. 🙂

  2. @Lynn Thanks for the comment, and I absolutely agree. You make a great point that it is often the things that are easy to gather/explain/analyze that become the most important. And it seems there are lots of black boxes that need to be opened or shattered! =)

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