How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person

AHP readers interested in data and constructions of personhood will be interested philosopher Colin Koopman’s just-published book How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person. The book is described as follows:

We are now acutely aware, as if all of the sudden, that data matters enormously to how we live. How did information come to be so integral to what we can do? How did we become people who effortlessly present our lives in social media profiles and who are meticulously recorded in state surveillance dossiers and online marketing databases? What is the story behind data coming to matter so much to who we are?
In How We Became Our Data, Colin Koopman excavates early moments of our rapidly accelerating data-tracking technologies and their consequences for how we think of and express our selfhood today. Koopman explores the emergence of mass-scale record keeping systems like birth certificates and social security numbers, as well as new data techniques for categorizing personality traits, measuring intelligence, and even racializing subjects. This all culminates in what Koopman calls the “informational person” and the “informational power” we are now subject to. The recent explosion of digital technologies that are turning us into a series of algorithmic data points is shown to have a deeper and more turbulent past than we commonly think. Blending philosophy, history, political theory, and media theory in conversation with thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and Friedrich Kittler, Koopman presents an illuminating perspective on how we have come to think of our personhood—and how we can resist its erosion.

Contents

Preface

Introduction: Informational Persons and Our Information Politics

Part I: Histories of Information

  1. Inputs
    “Human Bookkeeping”: The Informatics of Documentary Identity, 1913–1937
  2. Processes
    Algorithmic Personality: The Informatics of Psychological Traits, 1917–1937
  3. Outputs
    Segregating Data: The Informatics of Racialized Credit, 1923–1937

Part II: Powers of Formatting

  1. Diagnostics
    Toward a Political Theory for Informational Persons
  2. Redesign
    Data’s Turbulent Pasts and Future Paths

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.