You Are Not Your Data (and a project update)
Last week was the Fulbright-National Geographic Pre-departure Orientation in Washington, D.C. In addition to getting a chance to meet the brilliant 2015-2016 Fellows, we (the 2014-15 cohort) gave presentations to the public about our projects. I structured most of my talk around one question: what can you learn from your data? The short answer, of course, is many things. The longer answer is more complex, and it’s really in that complicated area that this project I’ve been working on for the past almost-year has been situated.
But even though my talk was about what you can learn from your data, I find it really important to stress that while your data tells stories about you, you are not your data. We are more than lines on maps and dots on charts, even though those might be the tools that we (I and many other data artists and visualizers) use to represent people.
But we shouldn’t confuse the signifier with the signified. Those of us who work with data are probably often guilty of doing this—it’s easy to forget that metrics are tied to specific people. For the past year, I’ve been working in-person with people whose digital data I’ve also been collecting. The people I’m working with are kind, generous, and intelligent, and there is so much more to them than just their data—if anything, their data is just a beginning.