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The Data Self

In this video, Dr David Beer takes a look at how corporations are using our data, and how that data can begin to shape our own lives.
We live in an environment that extracts our data. So you’ll hear terms like data harvesting as a dominant way of understanding what’s going on. And lots of the main corporations that we see - the big tech firms that’ve now become the biggest companies in the world - their business models are based upon the ability to extract and use the data about us. This can be data about our consumption practice - so transactional data that could come in forms like loyalty cards - but most of our transactions are now online so it’s easy now to accumulate data about the things that we buy - the things we consume.
And then the things that we watch, the things we listen to, these things all become data sources that can be used to analyse us and then to target us or to try to shape the way that we behave on lots of different fronts. Now the data about us is massive.
There are huge amounts of data points on each individual that’s extracted not just from our transactions but from our interactions on social media, the things that we like, the things we share, the things that we respond to, but also there’s a massive amount of data that just accumulates through things like the use of our smart-phone which captures not just what we’re doing but where we are, who we’re interacting with, how we’re doing it, for how long, what we’re consuming, so virtually everything that we do is captured in data. And that means that that data can be analysed. There’s a huge data analytics industry that’s emerged over recent years.
One famous example is Cambridge Analytica from recent years, and the stories about the political use of data.
There’s a huge data analytics industry: most of the organisations are nothing like Cambridge Analytica, but are still seeking to get as much data about us as possible so they can shape our behaviours in lots of different ways. So there’s a huge politics of data that’s now emerging. A politics of data that’s aimed at trying to know us
in granular detail: to know as much about us as possible so that information can be analysed to try to push us towards certain decision making and certain practices and certain outcomes that are preferable to those that hold the data. So that data analytics industry has become extremely powerful in recent years.
If we take football as an example: from the 1990s onwards, a huge data analytics industry has emerged just around football aimed at analysing the game, aimed at analysing the players on lots of different fronts. So what happens is those players start to respond to the data about them - they start to think about how they can change their game in order to be better and have better data. the pass-completion rate has become a dominant set of data within the sport and people aim toward completed passes rather than taking risks.
And one of the questions we might ask ourselves is whether the accumulation of data about us is pushing us towards the equivalent of safe sideways passes in a lot of what we do.
What do we mean by the data self? Here, Dr David Beer explains how we live in an environment where the amount of data accumulated about us is huge, and contemplates how this might affect the way that we behave in ‘real life’.
In the video David uses the example of the data held on football players to enables managers (and potential managers) to analyse those players and their game. He indicates that this could lead to players becoming risk averse as they want to aim towards ‘pass completion’. You may be thinking that this level of data accumulation doesn’t apply to you, but a simple example of where it does is the personalisation of web based services: this could be suggestions on Netflix based on your viewing history, the personalisation of search results based on your location and search history, or purchase recommendations on Amazon. In such ways, the data collected on us may have an impact on what we read, view or buy.
An example of the data self and how this applies to the everyday person is amusingly (or perhaps scarily) portrayed in a recent advertising campaign for the credit reporting agency Experian. In the ‘Introducing your data self’ advert, Dan’s data self is presented as more successful than the real life Dan. This says something about how we might view ourselves in different lights, online and offline: it could be a positive – the opportunity to present a different version of ourselves through the data we provide online – but there could be negative impacts on our wellbeing and how we view ourselves in the ‘real world’.
Use the comments section below to share your thoughts on this notion of the data self. What examples of personalisation have you encountered based on data capture about you? Does this data capture have an impact on how you behave? …the information and media that you consume? …the opportunities presented to you?


Beer, D. (2018). “Cambridge analytica: the data analytics industry is already in full swing”. The Conversation, 23 March 2018.
Beer, D. (2018) “The power of our social media data”. Discover Society.
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