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The Ethnomathematics of Algorithms: Sensors and the Problem of Little Big Data, Friday, March 1, 2013
March 1, 2013 @ 12:00 am
The Michigan Interactive and Social Computing (MISC) group is hosting Dawn Nafus from Intel Research, this Friday. When: Friday. March 1, 2013 at 11:00am Where: 2435 North Quad Abstract: Big data is a discourse that enables people to imagine new ways that digital information can travel, connect people, and make meanings. The discourse brings together notions of the found object with a notion of the infinitely recombinable, as if all data were related to all other data if thrown into a cloud-like space and stirred around. In this discourse, data is assumed to lack boundaries, and meaning is assumed to be ready-to-hand, just round the corner with enough stirring. Yet it seems that just before the technology industry gets to that corner, it invariably calls for more context, as if adding “more context” were as simple as adding more data. Using an ethnography of home energy monitoring and health monitoring enthusiasts, I show how the cultural imagination of data’s infinite recombinability encounters people’s practical experiences with sensor data. The anthropology of number shows that human sensemaking has much to do with sensor data’s linguistic properties. In Peircian terms, it is designed to generate “indexical” forms of meaning. For home energy and health monitoring, data’s indexicality both betrays too much and yet is never sufficient. Sensor data is both very big and very little at the same time. This expansive and yet myopic quality is the source of much consternation, as it forces users to encounter just how complex their own constructs of what constitutes a “healthy body” or an “energy efficient home” really are. Bio: Dawn Nafus is an anthropologist at Intel, where she conducts social science research to inform new products and strategies. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Cambridge University, and was previously a research fellow at University of Essex. She has research interests in temporality and technology, innovation policy as belief system, and global processes of consumerization. Her areas of regional expertise are Russia and the UK.