Between the ages of about nine to twelve, it was football three times a week. The school team in mid-week, the cubs on Saturday morning, and the local side on Sundays. In between that lot, it was usually with a pile of football programmes that I went to bed. Every article was required reading, but the pages that kept my attention the longest were always the league tables. I loved the mystery that lay between the facts. There, in stark rows and columns were exactly the reasons why my team had succeeded or failed. But what the statistics couldn’t show, were all the reasons why a season had turned out in a certain way. I loved trying to imagine what had led my team to be relatively successful in the mid 1970’s, but be two divisions lower six years later. The statistics told me everything, but nothing. So I’ve always had a thing for league tables and facts. Which means I love the work of R. Luke Dubois. Dubois’ most well known work takes the words most commonly used during the inauguration speeches of each American President, which are then laid in in black on a white background. They tell us much about the times each man lived and worked, and yet leave so many questions unanswered. How did the country get from the language of Lincoln, to that of Bush?
Dubois’ other well known work involved taking the data supplied by thousands of Tinder users, and overlaying the most popular searches over maps, to produce a portrait of a place. Some are obvious; Seattle has rain and coffee strongly featured, San Francisco features plenty of tech jargon. Others are poignant, pointing to economic or environmental catastrophe. It is this series of maps which has been an influence on my own recent work. Looking to create products for my fictional social media company, I took the idea of using data to produce maps, and suggested instead using data to produce personalised data read outs of whomever the user comes on contact with. As I use my company as a platform to discuss ideas around mass data collection, and online behaviour, introducing such a chilling idea works well. The only problem with coming up with an unpleasant, mad satirical tech product is the fact that, well something even madder and unpleasant probably already exists. Trained robot killer dogs who can track people based on their online searches? It’s a thing!