Where can tell me who I am

If in the past we could find ourselves if lost, or in a strange location, by asking of those nearby directly or indirectly (eg through social media apps) “who can tell me where I am?” then the condition now is “where can tell me who I am.”

The algorithms that parse and analyze our data shadows to control our horizon of possibilities now depend increasingly on spatial Big Data. As Dan Bouk points out in his recent history of data, the point here is not just to know; to track and to surveill where people go. Additionally algorithms are calculating machines–machinic assemblages–and what they calculate is value, derived not from you, but from your identity as given in the data.

First we are separated from our data in multiple ways, fractionated, scattered (Williams, 2005). “Separated” because we are in an asymmetrical relationship to our data; we do not have the same access to it that algorithms have. Nor the same rights: we are not “customers” of Facebook, but “users.” We do not engage in a point of sale (POS) but rather are the commodities ourselves.

Second as with identity theft what matters is not what you have done, but what your data say you have done. (I’ve received calls from credit collection agencies about “my” spending, and had credit cards charged for visits to hotels I’ve never been to.) These data are then reassembled as dividuals, as Deleuze pointed out some time ago.

Problems with the above: (A) it appears to usher back in an originary individual from whom all else (or at least all data) springs. (B) Talk of rights is suspect:

Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize ” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals , but a constant generator of de-individualization.
Foucault, Preface to Anti-Oedipus

But that “originary” individual can be multiple too, and in relations of power. The insight of the dividual is that it is a derivative that gets traded down the line (Amoore). Its value is purely notional and can undergo crisis, whence the possibility of counter-memory. The assemblage/desiring-machine is not mechanical (it doesn’t “work” in that sense). But there are “regimes of veridiction” that constitute it and as Foucault points out the market is one such site (Foucault, 17 Jan 1979). So our task might consist in part of elucidating the market that is the site for the intersection of value, spatial Big Data, and the spatial algorithm.

[First thoughts toward an intro for Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life for Big Data & Society]


4 responses to “Where can tell me who I am

  1. Thanks for this Jeremy, interesting stuff! I wonder if a productive way of getting at the ‘de-individualising’ you raise via Foucault and Deleuze (via ‘dividials’) might be furthered through Simondon/Stiegler on (trans)individuation (and maybe, relatedly, on transduction)? Here’s a recent paper that I think could be helpful: http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/04/14/0263276415580173

    Just a suggestion/thought! May be a different direction from the one you plan/see fit… 🙂

  2. Thanks Sam. I’ll take a look at the paper. It might put some details on the concept of ontogenetic that has been haunting geography for more than half a decade now…

  3. Pingback: Recent reading | Open Geography

  4. Pingback: Where can tell me who I am? | Open Geography

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