Byte by Byte

I am a researcher. I am enamored by thinking, problematizing, understanding, and trying to craft solutions.

I was part of a big program pushing for digital agriulture; we tried to enhance our food systems byte by byte. We used satellite images to capture geographies of agricultural systems, and geographies of human practices. I crafted tools to quantify people and communities; because it’s easier to understand in groups, rather than think through fragments. I am a living contradiction.

This byte by byte paradigm for food systems can actually help countries enhance food security. With the vast amount of generated data that can help policy makers, development institutions, and even the farmers, there might be no plausible reason to question this path. It’s that small window that we forget to check that will always catch us off-guard. Those small bytes that we didn’t foresee, but will overtake us later on. Those small bytes of contradiction that are intended to help, but will surprise us, because they can end up dividing us.

With our local, and international players and funders putting premium on data, commodifying data as the best selling points of proposals, where do you think we’re going? An endless pursuit to quantifying life – as if life is something that’s best presented in numbers. Bytes of data streaming before us.

A life so quantified that we can no longer give room to our intuition; because intuition cannot be measured. A life so quantified that we reduce our ability to understand only by measuring. A life so quantified, because we’re all too scared to make mistakes.

Realize – with big data comes efficiency, so we think. But I guess it’s this – with big data comes comfort. It gives comfort, because as we reduce an ever-complex system of life to measured indicators, and datasets, we’re fooled to think that we’re able to capture the essentials. It’s comforting at some point, because then we don’t have to deal with raw humanity – the emotions, the reality, the complexities, the unsolvables. It’s comforting, because probably our senses tell us to measure only those that we’re comfortable of knowing; so we leave out the essentials, the unconventional framings of reality. We’re taking away the discomfort of our lives, byte by byte.

We project our futures using measured pasts. So where does this kind of measurements, and projections lead us?

With big data comes a new pathway for human evolution. A humanity devolved of its core function – to be, to feel, to err.

I am a living contradiction. Because as I plead #WEARENOTDATA, I myself am reduced to data. That I know. I am a researcher, and have reduced people to data, too.

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