Report: Data Bodies

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  Virtual body and data body

The result of this informatisation is the creation of a virtual body which is the exterior of a man or woman's social existence. It plays the same role that the physical body, except located in virtual space (it has no real location). The virtual body holds a certain emancipatory potential. It allows us to go to places and to do things which in the physical world would be impossible. It does not have the weight of the physical body, and is less conditioned by physical laws. It therefore allows one to create an identity of one's own, with much less restrictions than would apply in the physical world.

But this new freedom has a price. In the shadow of virtualisation, the data body has emerged. The data body is a virtual body which is composed of the files connected to an individual. As the Critical Art Ensemble observe in their book Flesh Machine, the data body is the "fascist sibling" of the virtual body; it is " a much more highly developed virtual form, and one that exists in complete service to the corporate and police state."

The virtual character of the data body means that social regulation that applies to the real body is absent. While there are limits to the manipulation and exploitation of the real body (even if these limits are not respected everywhere), there is little regulation concerning the manipulation and exploitation of the data body, although the manipulation of the data body is much easier to perform than that of the real body. The seizure of the data body from outside the concerned individual is often undetected as it has become part of the basic structure of an informatised society. But data bodies serve as raw material for the "New Economy". Both business and governments claim access to data bodies. Power can be exercised, and democratic decision-taking procedures bypassed by seizing data bodies. This totalitarian potential of the data body makes the data body a deeply problematic phenomenon that calls for an understanding of data as social construction rather than as something representative of an objective reality. How data bodies are generated, what happens to them and who has control over them is therefore a highly relevant political question.

browse Report:
Data Bodies
-2   Global data bodies - intro
-1   Dos and donts of the data body economy
0   Virtual body and data body
+1   Like that car? The tricks of the data body industry
+2   Who are you?
+3   Transparent customers. Direct marketing online
Become your own data merchant!
Critical Art Ensemble
Critical Art Ensemble is a collective of five artists of various specializations dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, radical politics, and critical theory. CAE have published a number of books and carried out innovative art projects containing insightful and ironic theoretical contributions to media art. Projects include Addictionmania, Useless Technology, The Therapeutic State, Diseases of Consciousness, Machineworld, As Above So Below, and Flesh Machine.