I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were a question of lines, planes, and bodies.
Spinoza, in Ethics
This quote from Spinoza seems an unlikely launching pad for a discussion of the new intimacies arising between humans’ bigness and big data. Yet, by considering human activities through the elegant, elemental figures of geometry, we shall see how Spinoza gets us straight into the thick thicknesses of things.
Big data refers to the massive quantity of records that are captured, amassed, and mined in the wake of digitally structured actions. It is the sum total of records of actions—the exponential archive of every component transaction captured in every data trail. These actions may originate from human or nonhuman protagonists (e.g., online shoppers or particle accelerators) and may describe human or nonhuman referents (e.g., medical data or atmospheric data). But this essay will not address data generated by or descriptive of nonhuman objects. Instead, I will adopt an object-oriented feminist perspective, arriving at the nonhuman by following big data as it restructures the human.1 Beginning with the work that humans in the conventional sense, individual subjects—do as the producers of big data, I’ll describe how, by wielding Spinoza’s “lines, planes, and bodies” big data unproduces and deindividualizes its subjects to become transhuman objects, something, I’ll argue, far vaguer than any small subject could be.
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