The first thing that came to mind when we began discussing data/ information collection, was the John Snow investigation. In Soho, London, 1854 there was a mass cholera outbreak which was at the time was commonly linked to the popular miasma theory, which stated that that the disease was brought on by bad air and pollution. Snow, skeptical of this notion published two essays, the first titled ‘On the Mode of Communication of Cholera,’ in 1849 and a second edition in 1949 highlighting the connection between the disease and poor water quality. Essentially Snow used the technique of data collection, linking areas of higher cholera numbers to those of water pollution. Snow’s illustration ultimately convinced the council at the time to shut down the faulty water pump, thus lowering the cholera outbreak significantly.

John Snow Cholera Map

John Snow – Cholera Map

This instance of data collection is quite a clear cut example of how data can be used to improve our condition. Latour’s, ‘Actor Network Theory,’ illuminates the agency or connection between human and non-human actants. This seems to be a good starting point for all data collection as the theory simply breaks down the relationship between things and aims to capture the details of their interactivity.

Quilty-Harper’s article from The Telegraph, ’10 Ways Data Is Changing How We Live,’ explains how data is changing our lives currently. In relation to shopping the article explains how, “Dunnhumby operates the Tesco Clubcard scheme: using data collected from the scheme, Tesco can predict when people will shop, how they’ll pay for their items and even how many calories they will consume. Dunnhumby recently reported a 32 per cent rise in operating profits to £53.4 million, and has grown from300 employees at the start of 2007 to nearly 1,250 this year.”

It is not just companies that are able to successfully compile information to generate a better idea of assemblage. Unlike twenty odd years ago, a large percentage of humans are now able to access applications that are designed to help collect and manage personal data.  ‘The Data Driven Life,’ explains how “Foursquare, a geo-tracking application with about one million users, keeps a running tally of how many times players “check in” at every locale, automatically building a detailed diary of movements and habits; many users publish these data widely. Nintendo’s Wii Fit, a device that allows players to stand on a platform, play physical games, measure their body weight and compare their stats, has sold more than 28 million units.”

While all this data collection can be seen as a positive step towards a more fluid global society, there are still various privacy issues that many people are unaware of. Where is the line drawn in relation to advertising firms and business’ collecting personal data for their own gain, and what is our responsibility as individuals in questioning what information is divulged to these companies? Personally I am quite skeptical and protective when it comes to giving out information, although the way we communicate in the 21st century and the nature of the internet means that no matter how private material is, no data can fully be deleted or removed from the web.


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