Make Data Small Again
One day in 2018 I came up with the slogan “Make Data Small Again”, playing with the hype on Big Data and Donald Trump’s too well-known MAGA. I didn’t have a clear idea of what that meant or what to use it for. I only knew that it had a great potential, so I kept it aside.
Two years later I had the chance to develop a workshop for IAM weekend, a three-days festival that gravitates around the topic of Internet. Digging into my archive I realized that Making Data Small Again could have been a good fit for the event. So how could we Make Data Small in a workshop?
Producing and transfering data online became ridiculously easy. Adding friends, writing messages, uploading pictures or recording a sound: it's only a matter of clicks (or taps). By minimizing the effort, we are obsessed by creating. There is one thing that not everyone would have the guts to do: undoing all of that, going backwards, deleting all the data we provide through the dozens of apps we use on a daily basis.
Make Data Small Again is an extreme sport for the digital realm. If generating data is easy as climbing a step of a staircase, MDSA is like bungee jumping. The participants are guided in a process of collective deletion and alteration of a huge amount of personal online data like friends, comments, favourites, search results and so on.
You can imagine that going through every single online service that has at least a piece of our information would require some time. For this reason I ask the participants to pick one of their most used social network [I told you, it’s not for everyone].
The core activity takes place in five stages: unfriending, unposting, disinteracting, sidesearching, misinforming. During each stage, the participants perform tasks and take notes of their actions individually. Then, facilitated by questions, they share with the others their achievements and emotions. I like to think that, by the end of the workshop, the digital emptiness is filled up with something more profound. The stories shared and heard take place of the ones and zeroes.
It could sound silly, but I find all this fascinating. Many will see this activity as a critique of society and big tech corporations. I don’t deny it, but it’s not all about that. I’m not going to empty an ocean with a bucket.
What interests me even more is the individual: what is our relation with our own data? How do we attribute value to data? What is the boundary between personal and public data?
Collective performances stimulate connection, empathy and curiosity between the participants.
Thinking of data as cold numbers is wrong, and who analyzed data knows it very well.
If we want to claim our rights and have deeper conversations about data, we need to investigate and understand first what they mean to us.