What do you experience as 'data' in your organisational life? In mine it manifests through multi-channels: email, webinars, podcasts, SMS, What's App, Huddle, Chatter, Collaborate, Lync, intranet and internet searches, hyperlinks to shared files, linked-in, twitter, dropbox, Trello, Microsoft Office (Windows 7 Enterprise), print, info graphics, data visualisations. I'm not sure if I've named them all, and I use others in my non-work life. So, all told I have a lot of technology enabled data interaction. In both my work and non-work lives I'm constantly interpreting and making sense (or trying to) of this data 'tsunami'.
'Tsunami' – related to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data we create globally every day is one of the words explored in Big Bang Data a London exhibition in which 'Artists and designers help us understand our brave new world'. What I understood pretty much as soon as I'd seen the first installation was that I know nothing that goes on behind the scenes to bring this data to my fingertips.
You walk in and see a vast triptych video – no people in it at all. It 'documents one of the largest, most secure and 'fault-tolerant' data-centres in the world, run by Telefonica in Alcalá, Spain' and aims to 'look beyond the childish myth of 'the cloud', to investigate what the infrastructures of the internet actually look like'.
Immediately, I asked myself 'What am I not seeing as I interact with the data on my screens? What 'childish myths' do I hold about data?' These questions grew by dimension and complexity as I met each of the five parts of this compact but intense exhibition: data and democracy, data and design, data and privacy, data and you. (Look at the exhibition's explore tab here and you'll find associated materials and articles). I took away many thoughts to explore further, here are just two:
On infrastructure: I don't think I'll be able to walk around London now without seeing pieces of the infrastructure network all around me: access covers, antennae, utility cabinets, green spray paint markings on street excavations–indicating comms cables. It's the same in the office building I work (ok 'street excavations' usually means ceiling panels) but we have cctv, server rooms, swipe key hardware and so on. How aware are you of the infrastructure of your oganisation's data flow? Is it an organisation design consideration? Why/why not?
On data and privacy: The whole surveillance thing is taken up in a lot of the exhibits. Again it's a big cultural, ethical, moral debate in organisations and usually not very well addressed in my experience – we are not seeing it as an issue maybe because many of us hold 'childish myths' about surveillance. But, what is your organisation's thinking on the questions: 'My social media profile should have no impact on my professional life'? How transparent should we be about what we are tracking/can track about our employees? How do you make decisions about whether your employees' names, photos/emails appear on your company website?
Companies can already legally: watch employees via closed-circuit TV, log keystrokes, take screenshots of employees using their company computers, read employee e-mails. What are the ramifications of further technologies – for example, will companies be able to access legally our fitbits to monitor our health and stress levels?
These types of question are powerfully raised in the final exhibit – Jonathan Harris's 'Data will help us'. About it, he says "Big Data" has become a kind of ubiquitous modern salve that now gets applied to almost any kind of ailment. In fields ranging from education, to government, to healthcare, to advertising, to dating, to science, to war, we're abandoning timeless decision-making tools like wisdom, morality, and personal experience for a new kind of logic which simply says: "show me the data." How many times have you heard that last statement in your organisation?
As I said the exhibition raised 2 questions about data. What am I not seeing as I interact with the data on my screens? What 'childish myths' do I hold about data? How would you answer these questions? Let me know.