March 22, 2021

On his canonical birthday, a nice piece on the many personas of Captain Kirk.
What if "data" were also a verb? I data you; you data me. They data us; we data them.

In case that seems too outlandish, consider two synonymic neighbors of "data": "record" and "measure." Both of these words exist as nouns (I made a record), as verbs (We measured the temperature of the room), and indeed as verbal nouns (They found a list of measurements and recordings). The verbal forms of "record" and "measurement" make communication about the act of making records or taking measurements much easier. If we made "data" a verb, rather than having to say the National Security Agency was collecting data on our every interaction, movement, and metabolic function, we could simply say "They data us."

Data is not inert, yet its perceived passivity is one of its most dangerous properties. This is why when citizens are warned that a government or corporation is collecting data about them, so many are underwhelmed. The act of collection seems so harmless, so indifferent, so objective. But of course data is not collected and then left alone: it is used as a substrate for decision-making and as an instrument for differentiation, discrimination, and damage. The systems of data collection and use are humming with the capacity for bias, influence, action, and violence.
I'm less privacy concerned than many; for a while I thought it was a weird form of "not minding attention" but also, I'm fortunate in being on the "good" side of a lot of the lines that data collection draws. (My music/activism not withstanding.)