Becoming literate in the data age

Asmar, A. (Speaker), Marien, I. (Speaker), Van Audenhove, L. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


With technological advances, ubiquitous everyday objects - from smartphones to home appliances - become increasingly equipped with sensing, sensoring or sorting technologies. These technologies allow such equipment not only to understand their environments but endow them with the capacity to identify and precisely recognize individual characteristics of users. As individuals incorporate these technologies in their daily routines, more and more data about them are being stored, used and sold to third parties, often without their accord. Moreover, when permission is asked for the collection and reuse of data, it is often done in such an impenetrable language that users, most of the time, neither read nor understand what they are expected to agree upon. As data increasingly mediate the everyday life, data and the processes associated to datafication mechanisms are on the one hand perceived as opportunities (Data Revolution Group, 2014), and on the other side apprehended as dangers to civil liberties (Boyd & Crawford, 2012). Yet, both sides agree upon the need to move beyond media literacy and focus on building an empowered citizenry through data literacy (Calzada & Marzal, 2013; Wolff, 2016). This paper articulates itself in two main parts. Firstly, this paper critically looks at the current definitions of data literacy and argues that data literacy should not be viewed solely as a skill which would legitimize the fact that some individuals might be more apt than other; rather, we advocate for a definition of data literacy that puts an emphasis on the concept of literacy as a right. Put differently, is not so much about being data literate as it is about becoming literate in the data age. Secondly, it empirically considers the experiences and perceptions of users regarding issues of privacy, data collection and/or data gathering. Concretely, this paper is based on 85 in-depth interviews with respondents equally distributed across three life stages: Life stage 1 (18-30 years); life stage 2 (31-50 years); life stage 3 (51-70 years) and distributed equally across gender and educational levels (no high school degree, obtained a high school degree, obtained a degree of higher education). Our results show the growing concerns of users across age and education regarding the new data age, and the new divides brought about by the increasing digitization of services - both private and public. As data continue to expand in volumes and styles, the risk of exclusion is no longer limited to the people living on the margins, but gradual disempowerment risks affecting larger segments of the population.
Period6 Jul 201911 Jul 2019
Event titleIAMCR 2019
Event typeConference
LocationMadrid, Spain