Book Talk | How We Became Our Data
NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to join for a book talk for How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person, featuring the author Colin Koopman in conversation with Dan Bouk, Lisa Gitelman, and Dennis Yi Tenen. The conversation will be moderated by Natasha Schull.
We are now acutely aware, as if all of the sudden, that data matters enormously to how we live. How did information come to be so integral to what we can do? How did we become people who effortlessly present our lives in social media profiles and who are meticulously recorded in state surveillance dossiers and online marketing databases? What is the story behind data coming to matter so much to who we are?
In How We Became Our Data, Colin Koopman excavates early moments of our rapidly accelerating data-tracking technologies and their consequences for how we think of and express our selfhood today. Koopman explores the emergence of mass-scale record keeping systems like birth certificates and social security numbers, as well as new data techniques for categorizing personality traits, measuring intelligence, and even racializing subjects. This all culminates in what Koopman calls the “informational person” and the “informational power” we are now subject to. The recent explosion of digital technologies that are turning us into a series of algorithmic data points is shown to have a deeper and more turbulent past than we commonly think. Blending philosophy, history, political theory, and media theory in conversation with thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and Friedrich Kittler, Koopman presents an illuminating perspective on how we have come to think of our personhood—and how we can resist it.
Colin Koopman is associate professor of philosophy and director of the New Media & Culture Program at the University of Oregon. His books include: Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty (2009); Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity (2013); and How We Became Our Date: A Genealogy of the Informational Person (2019). His essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times and Aeon as well as in academic journals such as Critical Inquiry, Diacritics, and New Media & Society.
Dan Bouk is an associate professor of History at Colgate University and Faculty Fellow at Data & Society, where he researches the history of personal data in the United States. He is writing a book about the stories to be told from close readings of data from the 1940 census. He is the author of How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual (University of Chicago Press, 2015).
Lisa Gitelman is professor in the Department of English and Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. Her research concerns American print culture, techniques of inscription, and the new media of yesterday and today. She is particularly concerned with tracing the patterns according to which new media become meaningful within and against the contexts of older media. Her most recent book is entitled Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke, 2014).
Dennis Yi Tenen is an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His teaching and research happen at the intersection of people, texts, and technologies. A co-founder of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities, he is the author of Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford University Press, 2017). His next book concerns the creative limits of artificial intelligence.
Natasha Schüll is an associate professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. She is writing a book called Keeping Track (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, under contract) on the rise of digital self-tracking technologies and the new modes of introspection and self-governance they engender. She is the author of Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press, 2012).