digital data

Purity and Data

by YULIYA GRINBERG, Columbia University If you follow news about digital self-tracking, you may have heard about Chris Dancy. He appears regularly in the press and has become widely known as “The Most Connected Man on Earth.” Reporters generally characterize him as the epitome of a digital self-tracking devotee, a veritable cyborg in the flesh who has become all but isometric with his data. Chris’s collection, in fact, started out analog. Long before he found his way to Fitbit and Twitter scraping software, Chris lovingly assembled life-size scrapbooks filled with paraphernalia from years gone by. These collections often feature centrally in narratives of Chris, but they largely stand as silent backdrop, their clutter a foil for his digitally streamlined life. His digital data are associated with purity and order; his boards represent the mess he has cleared from his life. This contrasting representation of his digital and analog collections reflects a powerful cultural understanding of digital data as something that...

Tutorial: Getting Started with Sensor Data

Tutorial Instructor: DAWN NAFUS, Intel Overview Activity trackers, instrumented environments, and other kinds of electronic monitors offer new possibilities and new challenges for ethnographic research. They provide a trace of what goes on when the researcher isn't there, and can help research participants reflect on their lives in a new way. In the right contexts, sensor data can help bridge the gap between ethnographic and data science approaches. At the same time, sensors can be challenging to set up, and occasionally mislead if the context is poorly understood. This tutorial will help you determine when and how to use sensor data in an ethnographic research practice. We'll talk about some of the practical pitfalls to watch out for, when you do and don't need a data scientist, and some of the trickier aspects of inviting research participants to reflect on the data collected about them. Participants will learn how to: Assess sensors for maximum research value Ensure the research setup is feasible Wrangle data...

The Domestication of Data: Why Embracing Digital Data Means Embracing Bigger Questions

DAWN NAFUS Intel Corporation The EPIC community has been wrestling with ways to integrate quantitative and qualitative methods in light of the increasing role that digital data plays in business practices. Some focus on methodological issues (digital data as method), while others point to the consumer value in data products (data as thing in the world). This paper argues that “digital data as method” and “digital data as thing in the world” are becoming increasingly intertwined. We are not merely witnessing ethnographers’ haulting embrace of digital data, but a wider process of the domestication of data, in which we, alongside the people we study, are participants. The domestication of data involves everyday situations in which ordinary people develop their own sense-making methods—methods remarkably similar to ethnographic knowledge production. In this way, the domestication process tightens the connection between data as thing in the world and data as method. I argue that seeing the interconnection gives us the...