[Book] Living in Data

Living in Data: : A Citizen’s Guide to a Better Information Future
by Jer Thorp
May 2021, 362 pages

Jer Thorp’s analysis of the word “data” in 10,325 New York Times stories written between 1984 and 2018 shows an interesting trend: among the words associated with “data,” we have begun to find not only its classic companions (“information,” “digital”), but a variety of new neighbors –– from “scandal,” “politicians,” and “misinformation” to “ethics,” “lives,” “friends,” and “play.” 

To live in data is to be incessantly extracted from; to be classified and categorized, statisti-fied, sold and surveilled. Data (our data) is mined and processed for profit, power and political gain. Our clicks and likes and footsteps feed new digital methods of control. In Living in Data, Thorp asks a crucial question of our time: how do we stop passively inhabiting data, and become active citizens of it?

In this provocative book, Thorp brings his work as a data artist to bear on an exploration of our current and future relationship with data, transcending facts and figures to find new, more visceral ways to engage with data. Threading a data story through hippo attacks, glaciers, and school gymnasiums; around colossal rice piles and over active mine fields, Living in Data keeps humanity front and center. Thorp reminds us that the future of data is still wide open; that there are stories to be told about how data can be used, and by whom. Accompanied by informative and poetic illustrations, Living in Data not only redefines what data is, but re-imagines how it might be truly public, who gets to speak its language, and how, using its power, new institutions and spaces might be created to serve individuals and communities. Timely and inspiring, this book gives us a path forward: one where it’s up to all of us to imagine a more just and participatory data democracy.

Jer Thorp is an artist, a writer, and a teacher. He was the first data artist in residence at The New York Times, he is a National Geographic Explorer, and he served as the innovator in residence at the Library of Congress in 2017 and 2018. He lives under the Manhattan Bridge with his family and his awesome dog, Trapper John, MD. Living in Data is his first book.