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.