Ever wonder why ads for a particular pair of socks keep following you around the web? Why Pandora keeps playing that song you hate, even though you give it a thumbs-down every single time? Or why that one person you barely know keeps showing up in your News Feed when your old friends rarely seem to appear? Ask away.
The Living With Data series explores how data is tracked, collected, and used in our everyday lives. This series starts with you—I urge you to share your personal stories, your questions, and your encounters with data. Do you have screen captures of weird ads or algorithmic flukes? What were you doing, what caught your attention, and what’s your best guess for what’s going on?
Write in with your data and algorithm questions, and we will try to decode them together.
The Living With Data series will prominently featuring voices that are personal, both yours and mine. So I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. I’m a technology critic, a research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia, and an affiliate with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. But really I’m an internet-enabled nomad, currently based in Singapore. I’ve written about our relationship to technology for publications like The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, and now here at Gizmodo.
For me, being a critic isn’t about taking a negative, reactionary position. It’s about reaching a more balanced and nuanced understanding of the role that technology plays in our everyday lives—good, bad, and everything in-between. We have film critics and food critics; almost all cultural artifacts are subject to criticism, so why not approach technology with the same careful and considered attention?
My goal for this series is to make data and algorithms a little less abstract and a little more accessible. Where possible, we’ll cover what we know about data and how it’s being used. When the answers are less clear, we’ll at least figure out where to keep digging.
I’ll be hanging out live on Gizmodo answering questions and talking about how data affects your lives at 11:30 ET today. I’ll talk about my process, my approach to technology criticism, and we can generate some areas to explore in future columns.
Update: Wrapping up now. Thanks everyone for your questions, and there’s plenty more exploring to do. What strange encounters with algorithms have you had? Results that seem off, recommendations that surprise you, assumptions made about your browsing habits...
This series is all about sharing your stories and surfacing new ways of understanding our relationship the data and algorithms around us. Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with your examples and questions. And thanks!
Check out the rest of the series for the kinds of stories we’re interested in exploring.