Data and Dasein - A Phenomenology of Human-Data Relations

Hogan, Trevor

In contemporary society, data representation is an important and essential part of many aspects of our daily lives. This thesis aims to contribute to our understanding on how people experience data and what role representational modality plays in the process of perception and interpretation. This research is grounded in phenomenology - I align my theoretical exploration to ideas and concepts from philosophical phenomenology, while also respecting the essence of a phenomenological approach in the choice and application of methods. Alongside offering a rich description of people’s experience of data representation, the key contributions I claim transcend four areas: theory, methods, design, and empirical findings. From a theoretical perspective, besides describing a phenomenology of human-data relations, I define, for the first time, multisensory data representation and establish a design space for the study of this class of representation. In relation to methodologies, I describe and deploy two methods to investigate different aspects of data experience. I blend the Repertory Grid technique with a focus group session and show how this adaption can be used to elicit rich design relevant insight. I also introduce the Elicitation Interview technique as a method for gathering detailed and precise accounts of human experience. Furthermore, I describe for the first time, how this technique can be used to elicit accounts of experience with data. My contribution to design relates to the creation of a series of bespoke data-driven artefacts, as well as describing an approach to design that I call Design Probes, which allows researchers to focus their enquiry on specific design features. To answer the research questions I set out in this thesis, I report on a series of empirical studies that used the aforementioned methods. The findings of these studies show, for instance, how certain representational modalities cause us to have heightened awareness of our body, some are more difficult to interpret than others, some rely heavily on instinct and each of them solicit us to reference external events during the process of interpretation. I conclude that a phenomenology of human-data relations show how representational modality affects the way we experience data, it also shows how this experience unfolds and it offers insight into particular moments such as the formation of meaning.


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Hogan, Trevor: Data and Dasein - A Phenomenology of Human-Data Relations. 2017.

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