Jer Thorp’s analysis of the word “data” in 10,325 New York Times stories written between 1984 and 2018 shows a distinct trend: among the words most closely associated with “data,” we find not only its classic companions “information” and “digital,” but also a variety of new neighbors—from “scandal” and “misinformation” to “ethics,” “friends,” and “play.”
To live in data in the twenty-first century is to be incessantly extracted from, classified and categorized, statisti-fied, sold, and surveilled. Data—our data—is mined and processed for profit, power, and political gain. In Living in Data, Thorp asks a crucial question of our time: How do we stop passively inhabiting data, and instead become active citizens of it?
Threading a data story through hippo attacks, glaciers, and school gymnasiums, around colossal rice piles, and over active minefields, Living in Data reminds us that the future of data is still wide open, that there are ways to transcend facts and figures and to find more visceral ways to engage with data, that there are always new stories to be told about how data can be used.
Punctuated with Thorp's original and informative illustrations, Living in Data not only redefines what data is, but reimagines who gets to speak its language and how to use its power to create a more just and democratic future. Timely and inspiring, Living in Data gives us a much-needed path forward.
About the Author
Jer Thorp is an artist, a writer, and a teacher. He was the first data artist in residence at The New York Times, he is a National Geographic Explorer, and he served as the innovator in residence at the Library of Congress in 2017 and 2018. He lives under the Manhattan Bridge with his family and his awesome dog, Trapper John, MD. Living in Data is his first book.
"If Annie Dillard wrote about data, it might sound something like this. In turns insightful, hilarious, techy and humane, Living in Data is an essential book for anyone who’s wondering how exactly we got into this data mess, and thinking about how we might dig ourselves out.”
—Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack
"Elbow-deep in data day in and day out, Jer Thorp has learned to feel every vibration. He would like the rest of us to do the same, instead of accepting them at face value––or worse, using them as shields from reality. Living in Data offers no easy fix. Rather, it shows that the potential for change lies within us: in our human, fallible, hopeful minds.”
—Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA
“We hear every day how data is affecting our world. But Living in Data is the first time we can really feel it. In this book, Jer Thorp has the technical expertise of a coder but the soul of a storyteller, and the result is a highly accessible, even stirring, view into the often-invisible systems that shape our lives.”
—Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch