With all of this information that communities and societies can gain access to from remote sensors all over the world, how do we use this data for change and progress? Jeremijenko and Bratton seem to think that this information can change the contemporary authoritative structure by giving access to “the people”; information that was until recently only afforded to scientists, or as they call them, “experts”. This article starts out by critiquing data visualizations made from ubiquitous sensing as a mode for authoritarian representation. Jeremijenko states that “The criticism of how the data is produced is left out; unless this criticism is engaged, it doesn’t make for a meaningful visualization. If we don’t question how the data is made, we cannot make sense of it. Producing a nice diagram is not all that is required in making sense of something.” (13) By being able to gather and critique this data that is usually reserved for the “expert” community, people can change the power structure: “So we can have (and have had) environmental data collection, and we have a regime where most of the data collection has been done under these regulatory compliance protocols. And now we have the capacity to have this collection occur under alternate protocols or through a different institutional framework, operating with different models of participation.”(20) They seem to think that it is the artist’s role to interpret this data into a meaningful interface for the community.
For instance, Jeremijenko’s project Environmental Health Clinic, prescribes her patients to change the way they live/behave in order to become healthier. She states an example about asthma, and that instead of pumping your child up with medicine, change the air quality in the environment. That sound great, and I suppose they could ride a bike instead of a car, but how can the individual compete with the corporation? They are the ones doing major polluting, so this idea of collective power through gathering sensor data doesn’t really do anything unless the power structure in society can change. Jeremijenko states that, “The capacity to contest, to be in the position to have an opinion, to question the evidence, is where these ubiquitous computation devices can really contribute.” (34) This could happen, but I don’t think through gathering data and showing that you have different data than the government or regulatory companies will change too much.
Later in the article, Jeremijenko states that, “There is a crisis of agency that may or may not be resolved by and/or attributed to the technologies of ubiquitous computing and sensing.” (38) She then goes on to talk about how environmental agencies are conflated with consumer dollars “with the responsibility of your consumption”(38) I though this was great. Bratton then says, “And in that scenario, the image of the future is for data clouds to render on the sides of cereal boxes, where, for example, the transparency of their conditions of assemblage and “carbon footprints” become the discourse through which these objects display themselves to us as interfaces into a vast supply-chain.”(39) The image of being green or healthy is another interface sold to consumers. They then critique that the idea of buying into this corporate green movement image isn’t really doing anything and that one should question the motives of these corporations. So again, there is a problem with the image of data.
Reading this article and thinking about how the world is becoming one big sensor, reminded me of the Pachube project created by Usman Haque. There are sensors from all over the world being fed into this database and anyone else can harvest this data. I do find myself asking the same questions in the article: why do we need all of this data and how can we make it meaningful? Is measuring the wind in China arbitrary? I will admit, though, that it is cool.