Data Epics
Sept 2019–June 2022
In the Data Epics, fiction writers use data from home IoT devices to create short stories for their home dwellers to read. The project investigates how home dwellers might encounter and make sense of their home IoT data and these short stories capitalize on the ways people understand complex situations and concepts through narrative structures. We argue that for the IoT to actualize its promise of moving dwellings closer to a ‘smart home’, it is imperative that home dwellers become empowered to understand what data is collected as part of IoT services, what assumptions can be inferred from the data and the implications of these assumptions.
Audrey Desjardins
Heidi Biggs
Gabrielle Benabdallah
Stephanie Tang Waldrop
Elva Chen
Auden Finch
Jackson Jiang
Maya Kaneko
Sai Kukkadapu
Hannah Liao
Riley Mehl
Aivy Phan
Yuna Shin
Chandler Simon
Janey Yee
Data Epics takes a radically different approach to present home data: by turning data into short fiction stories created by fiction writers. It is the start of a journey into more nuanced, messy, lively, humane and situated ways of seeing data.
Step 1. A smart home device collects data over a month. This data may be simple on/off from a smart plug, or the commands and questions asked to a voice assistant, for example.
Step 2. Data are downloaded from smart device systems and then are cleaned to keep only the actions or phrases, and timestamps, removing other metadata. If the data are numerical, we create a visual graph of the data over the period of a month.
Step 3. The data are sent to a fiction writer, who reads and interprets the data to write a short fiction story. The writer can choose to integrate the data however they want in the story. With voice data, they may include them verbatim. With numerical data, they may look for trends or outliers as inspiring narrative points.
Step 4. We typeset the stories and hand bound books. The stories were sent back to the participants for them to read.
Step 5. We conducted interviews with the participating households and fiction writers over the course of four story cycles. After thematic analysis, we found that these data fictionalization discuss topics of servitude, the data twin, data's relation to broader ecosystems, and the ongoing evasive meaning of data. Overall, the project allowed opening new data imaginaries.
Below is an excerpt from the story, Illumination.
In May 2022, we hosted an event at The Grocery Studio, in which the writers read through their stories to the audience. The event included a Q&A in which we encouraged the audience to share their thoughts on creative data imaginaries and ask any questions they had for the authors.
Desjardins, A., Biggs, Heidi. (2021). Data Epics: Embarking on Literary Journeys of Home Internet of Things Data. CHI'21 New York, ACM Press.
Gabrielle Benabdallah, Maya Kaneko, Audrey Desjardins (2023). A Notebook of Data Imaginaries DIS'23, New York, ACM Press.
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Soft Fading