Subservient to 'The Data Sublime'

As my inaugral contribution to this research blog for Cursor I wanted to briefly reflect on an article that does a great job of examining the conditioning that has brought us as phone users to a point of, at best, ambivalence, and at worst subservience when considering the data we produce and its wider dissemination and utilisation by other agents.

The Article Data Sublime by William Davies was published by the New Inquiry in January of this year. The article uses an autobiographical account from the author as an opening and closing metaphor. This metaphor (of the author's comfort in being driven on journeys by his parents with no knowledge of the intended destination) highlights a worrying yet understandable trait of our relation to data production, it is one of relinquishing control and autonomy of our bodies, thoughts and cities to apps and likewise software interfaces that are a "data grid that is incomprehensible".

Davies writes from an economics perspective (which can be further explored on his excellent personal website, he traces the emergence of this data subservience to the trade-off between 'freedom' for 'security' and how the early quantified-self movement helped normalise digital surveillance, heralding its playbouring autonomy and experimentation through an aesthetisation of interfaces.

Perhaps for Cursor our interest lies in how even after this normalisation has been disrupted (post-Snowden) that the capital-driven innevitability of wearable tech rumbles ever closer, examining how this shift is predicated on continuing to foster self-surveillance as a positive and fruitful endeavour. The sheer invasive breadth of data that can be gathered and used to quantify the individual has worrying implications, it is with this sentiment that Davies ends his article, he questions who this data production is for? When we are the child receeding into the safety of parental stewardship we enjoy that they are responisble for our safety and development, but when you rescind your data autonomy to the janus-faced benevolence of corporations, you cannot assure that they have a plan for your wellbeing, there is no guarantee anyone is driving this metaphorical vehicle of capital.

Cursor is positioned to examine how these processes are consistently being normalised and individuals exploited as the data produced is made legible to neoliberal rationalised economies of value. Questioning who, why and what for, are an intrinsic part of our enquiry, although there may be no firm answers to these questions - we can at least begin to interrogate the schisms within Q-self technology and bring forward these normalised processes for closer inspection.