All over the world, actions, feelings, and thoughts are becoming data. Divining future desires and anxieties, promiscuous digital networks collect and collate a wide variety of everyday data, marking populations as risky or profitable. Participation in these networks is frequently mandatory in order to access a wide variety of political, social, and economic opportunities. Even if you manage to delete your account or withdraw from these networks, digital systems leave ghostly activity traces or zombie profiles waiting to come back to life. The rise of these data systems offers profound sociological and philosophical challenges to how we understand social life, power, control, memory, conscious thought, and even the nature of humanity and the environment.
This course engages with the impact of data infrastructures and digital technologies in a non-deterministic fashion, which is to say that technical systems and structures, while powerful, do not fully determine social possibility. Focusing on historical, established, and emergent data systems, we look to understand technology as a field of affordance and prohibition, with feelings, thoughts, and politics dynamically interacting with rapidly modulating standards, norms, and methods. Course themes address a variety of theoretical topics that have been central to the social study of science and technology, including the efficacy of critique in encountering information processing systems.