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Numbering Life

Project description

The project “Numbering Life. Metrics and Measures in Digital Media” responds to the growing quantification of social and cultural life in digital culture. It explores the making, circulation and evaluation of numbers in social media platforms, such as Like, friend or share counts, numbers of interactions, algorithmic influence ranks or popularity metrics. In the context of contemporary audit cultures platforms constantly transform user activities into different numerical forms which allow users to evaluate themselves or be evaluated and valorised by third-party organisations and researchers. The distinctive claim put forward by this project is to approach these numbers not as representative, external descriptors, but as fabricated enumerated entities, which inform what they seek to measure and come with an (after)life. It addresses numbers as part of wider number ecologies and shows how third-party platforms, commercial and academic research de- and recontextualise these numbers, making users accountable for their social media activities alongside multiple value axis. Attending to the role of users, platforms and third-parties involved, the project investigates how numbers in digital media allow to create specific relations between social and economic value. Methodologically, the project draws on software analysis, digital methods and business ethnography to conduct six empirical case studies on the history and making of numbers, the multiplicity of meaning of numbered activities, the use of numbers for reputation and risk assessment in reputation algorithms, the numbering practices of wearable devices for self-quantification and the use of platform metrics in commercial and academic research to study mediated social life. The project offers the first conceptual and methodological framework for the study of numbers in digital media and brings together emergent debates in number theory, software and platform studies, as well as digital humanities, offering an inventive contribution to public debates on number/data driven life.

Funded by: Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek

Project duration: Jan 2015 - Jan 2019 

Related Publications

(2018) Marres, N. and Gerlitz, C. "Social Media as Experiments in Sociality" in: Marres, N., Guggenheim, M. and Wilckie, A.Inventing the Social, Manchester: Mattering Press, 253-286.  

(2018) Gray, J. Gerlitz, C. and Bounegru, L. "   Data Infrastructure Literacy   ", Big Data & Society, online first.

(2018) Gerlitz, C., "Retrieving". In: Lury, Celia et al., eds: The International Handbook of Interdisciplinary Research Methods. Routledge . 

(2018) Gerlitz, C. & Rieder, B., "Tweets are not created equal. Investigating Twitter's Client Ecosystem" In: International Journal of Communication, 11, 528–547. http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/5974/2252   

(2016) Gerlitz, C., What Counts? Reflections on the Multivalence of Social Media Data. Digital Culture & Society, 2(2), pp.19–38.

(2016) Gerlitz, C., Data Point Critique. In M. T. Schäfer & K. van Es, eds. The Datafied Society Studying Culture through Data. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 241–245.