Weird Solidarities and Data Tenancy

DIS Magazine's 'Data Issue' is a very timely set of short essays and provocations that are filtering into our research for Cursor. In this post I will focus on the article 'Weird Solidarities' by Karen Gregory.

"As value grows increasingly speculative, being drawn from the dual promise of data aggregation and its parsing—for data are only as valuable as the novel emergent patterns it can produce—such value is already predicated on a social body and the generative connections that can be forged among its constituent elements. These elements do not necessarily have to reduce to “the human.” Additionally, this is a laboring and productive body whether it “works” or not. In this way, this economy does not need “you,” but it is fully composed of “us.”

When thinking about Cursor, and its focus on the production of data labour through fitness applications, Gregory's deconstruction of data's value is an intriguing and troubling proposition. The focus of such apps is often to harness the individual's actions through sensory quantification of their activities, although this data is emblematic of their movement it cannot be understood as human essence but rather an isolated and cold reading of capture. By participating in this system we are opting to have our data parsed and positioned alongside those within the same community, this community is not a generative 'us' that is focused on inclusion, sharing in a generative manner or development, but rather it is an ambivalent community of competition, one that only notes your data's presence and absence.

"We are slowly coming to realize that the “sharing economy” is less about sharing than it is about creating new terrains of rent. Such terrains are innovative and disruptive not because they are necessarily creative, unique, generous, or helpful to the overall project of human life but because they attempt at all costs to circumvent production costs (including labor) and therefore reconfigure the relationship between production and value."

As Gregory notes the inclusion policy of sharing economies is now predicated on othering those not imbricated within its grip, excluding the participation of those who do not wish to forgo the right to their labour. A way of understanding this is in relation to fitness tracking is how many apps are free to use (often with optional in-app add on purchases) where your activity i.e. labour becomes your payment, the apps require penetrative access to your identity and personal data, layering your production of data ontop of this identity. As the Cursor project develops I will look to examine this process more intensely by interrogating apps terms of service and comparing what greater access or relief is given when you pay-for-access. What is maybe currently unknown is when these data layerings will be considered comprehensive enough to constitute effective legal, economic or health renderings of the individual. Worrying precedents for how this resolution could become a act of punishment can be seen emerging as the state begins punitative measures against its citizens with regard to their own health, how long before optional fitness tracking edges towards becoming a tool of discipline?

"The key figure here is the enterprising, entrepreneurial individual—a savvy prosumer or, in Toffler’s words, a “proactive consumer”—who privileges access to goods and services over ownership. Bear in mind, this is an individual who already does own something—that is, has something to “share.” That something can be their home, their car, their pets, their time, their talents, or their attention, and that individual is often invited to share through the most practical of all invitations—the creation of passive income, or rent."

Gregory develops this deconstruction of the sharing economy to include the asymetrical hierarchy that is emerging as more users contribute their labour in the form of renting their assets. With regard to fitness tracking it is the body itself that is being rented, as sensors develop at an accelerated rate more and more quantification is contrived to extract data from the person, every element of their movement becomes payment for being able to read and compare these seeminly innocuous processes. Gregory goes on to note that "while “you” may not ontologically “be” a gadget such as a camera or a pedometer, as long as those elements are attached to you and producing trails of data, you are a generative source of data aggregation who becomes, often unknowingly, a constituent of data-based populations.". Here Gregory touches again upon my earlier assertions where we act as prosumer, in a commodity-driven culture this behaviour is not difficult inculcate. If these systems continue to read from the same dystopic script, appropriating Sci-Fi technological contrivances, these forms of normalisation are laying the foundation for more invasive processes such as wetware and biotech innovation.

"unlike the workers who meet on the factory floor, the sharing-app users meet only as commercial adversaries, and build not solidarity but merely a mercantile ‘trust’ that facilitates wary exchange.” While Horning’s statement may be true, I want to suggest that, despite its rhetoric of rampant individualism, the sharing economy and, even more broadly, the data economy has already ushered in a form of “weird solidarity.” - Rob Horning

When considering 'weird solidarity' in relation to mercantile 'trust' it is worth considering that mercantilism was originally a governmental economic policy implemented by nations to allow new forms of domination. I mention this in relation an article mentioned in a previous post, William Davies 'The Data Sublime' which examines data states (such as Google and Facebook) which are now effectively blindly dabbling in statecraft beyond a post-nation system of economy. I suggest that the tentative trust and wariness within our new forms of solidarity are based in individuals being able to navigate or even see the formulating systems to which they are making their labour legible.

"Much in the same way that rentierism opens the commodity to new spatial and temporal extensions so that it can generate a stream of inhabitants, the data economy extends and opens the human body to the pre-personal, to what we do not necessarily have conscious access to. The data economy already understands us as the porous subjects of an uncanny and expressive genetics."

In a brief summation Gregory puts forward a very succinct expression of how these economines are transitioning and fusing. The very nature of Q-Self technology is to attempt to know us in 'better', and more expansive ways, than we have ever been exposed to previously. The trouble lies in how these "expressive genetics" will be processed and exploited, and who will monopolise and extract top-down value from those afraid of not being part of these economies.