To know the world and ourselves through data and its machinic custodians is an exercise in stretching our phenomenological horizons. On one hand, big data promises unprecedented knowledge of the world ‘out there’ – a world which technology itself renders more complex than ever, a world which we are nevertheless exhorted to know for ourselves in order to function as rational and informed subjects. Meanwhile, the same technologies for exhaustive measurement and correlative prediction turn ‘in here’ to the privacy and domesticity of the individual body, promising ‘know us better than we know ourselves.’ They seek to pre-empt human sense experience, bringing forth previously amorphous aspects of each individual life into that harsh and discrete field of objective knowledge. This chapter charts these two related ways – ‘recession’ and ‘protrusion’ – in which new technologies reconfigure the phenomenological relationship between sense experience and knowledge. To do so, it examines two scenes of datafication in contemporary America: the Snowden Affair, and the emerging generation of self-tracking technologies.
Surveillance, sensors, and knowledge through the machine