Tracey Lauriault on data at Ottawa Civic Tech

Living in an age of data, we must critique the technology spread throughout our lives

At tonight’s Ottawa Civic Tech meetup, we heard Tracey Lauriault speak about the human and social implications of data.

In no particular order and without much polish, here are some thoughts I took away:

  • Though many industries or processes haven’t caught up, we live in the days of data and the age of the algorithm.
  • The implications of the shift into this data-driven world are not fully considered—oftentimes in tech we’re driven only by asking about what we can do, without considering what we should do. (We must always ask why.)
  • Critical technology studies—with numerous forms—are growing in academic prominence, considering the implications of data and where it might take us.
  • Critical study is far more powerful when linked to more concrete discussions and implementations. Such discussions can’t always take place in academia; there’s a large space for civic organizations to fill regarding these discussions. These discussions need to happen with greater frequency, across jurisdictions.
  • Those studying and thinking about technology ought to reach across arbitrary disciplinary and methodological barriers in order to do their best work. Those making technology often ignore such barriers; those studying it might adopt a similar approach.
  • Key to understanding and critiquing the effects of data is to respect the people impacted by technology. Though we speak constantly of the devices and data that direct our lives, we don’t talk about the lives being directed. Who is impacted by these shifts? Where does the individual factor in such societal change? We cannot critique technology without understanding the people who use it.