"I Am Superman"
Our lives can be seen as a combination of data, decisions and that unique element we call humanity. But what does it mean to truly ‘own’ our quantified selves?
"My life is made up of data. If I have the right equipment, virtually everything can be tracked." says Louisa Heinrich. Owning one's life in this case is not just about possession and privacy; it's also about decision-making, about choices. If I 'own' my life, then I have control or at least visibility over who sees and captures what and when. But I also need to have jurisdiction over what's measured in the first place, and how it's interpreted. This creates an unprecedented design challenge.
A lot of the visionaries these days paint a world where decisions are made for us based on data. On one hand, this is appealing – machines can do basic tasks and make simple choices for me. On the other hand, it's disorienting - what is the logic underlying these decisions? How can I participate in it? Am I comfortable with decisions being made for me when I don't understand why or how?
The answer may be to keep our focus as designers on the things that make us uniquely human, and to allow for those things to shine through the interactions, services and systems that we build on and with Big Data. If people are afraid of Big Data, perhaps it's because we know we're not machines, and we shouldn't aspire to be. The role of design in this is not primarily the creation of artifacts, digital or otherwise (though that is part of the answer); the primary role of design is to make a translation between the abstract and the human, to make connections between humans and the things they need, want and love. Sometimes that means exposing the mechanics, sometimes that means hiding the complexity.
The trick is to let all this richness of data be a means to making better decisions and leading better lives - to making me Super-me.