Uncovering tensions in personal data management

At a time when the line between our online and offline lives becomes increasingly blurred, it is important to examine how people deal with the overwhelming amount of digital data they interact with on a daily basis. This paper report is posted on behalf of Samantha Jaroszewski revisiting one of the lab’s CSCW papers from last year on data management practices.

 What did we do?: We identified and explored the qualitative, affective, morally inflected narratives that surround people’s data management practices in the US and Korea.

How did we do it?: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 34 participants in the United States and Korea. During the interviews, we asked our participants to physically map out – using paper and pens, markers and/or colored pencils – their digital ecosystem. In particular, we probed respondents to walk us through the networked devices they use. This yielded insights about unique configurations of phones, computers, sound systems, fitness trackers, cameras, and file sorting.

What did we find?: Our findings point to the complex, heterogeneous and highly customized ways in which people assemble, navigate, and conceptualize their use of digital products and services. In particular, we identified morally inflected narratives surrounding data management practices. Our participants spoke of how their choices were informed by a particular sense of self, such as being a responsible consumer, or a set of values, such as being a good mother. However, the same value (take being a good mother for example) could be approached with mutually exclusive practices: one mother could engage heavily in photo sharing practices to be a good mother by sharing photos with family across the globe, while other mothers enacted “good” mothering practices by protecting their children, meaning they took great care to prevent sharing a child’s likeness. These complex negations are meaningful to our participants’ sense of self, participation in networks, and use of product and corporate ecosystems.  

What are the implications of the work?: Our findings emphasize the important relational work and tensions that lie at the intersection of people’s social lives and their needs around organizing their digital lives. Understanding broad data narratives rather than focusing on specific, isolated nodes in people’s ecosystem facilitates conversations about motivations, tensions, concerns, and tradeoffs made about technology adoption, use, and satisfaction.  

Read the full paper here.