Week 12: Data Friction and Infrastructural Globalisation

In this week’s blog entry, I’ll be talking about data friction and infrastructural globalisation.

What is Data Friction?

According to Edwards (2010), data friction refers to the effort that you expend to consolidate data into a coherent piece of information. The context that he had used this in was to gather readings from weather measuring instruments into a book that attempts to show the history of global weather and climate records.

The way that I think of data friction is of different data that isn’t easily put together, hence the friction when you do try to re-arrange them in a meaningful manner. I feel like this can relate to the reading A Hacker Manifesto by Wark (2004) where it says “To abstract is to construct a plane upon which otherwise different and unrelated matters may be brought into many possible relations”. Where to abstract may refer to the creation of information, data friction refers to the effort that we use to wrangle these different matters into something related.

This can be seen all the time in the publishing industry by authors of articles, research papers and pieces of work that involve turning data into a more digestible format. People who go out to gather and research a topic in order to write an article would need to piece together everything that they’ve found to make a complete article and this involve data friction.

One example of this can be seen in this article from Webdesigner Depot by Sara Vieira. The raw data that is the topic of this article, the markdown language, can be hard to digest if presented in a table. However, to present and explain the markdown language in an article like this helps the reader understand. To put the article together would  have involved some measure of data friction. Another example goes back to visualisation of data. In this graph which depicts colours in cultures and what they mean, there would have involved data friction to get everything into a graph as opposed to tables of data.

What is Infrastructural Globalisation?

Edwards (2010) refers to infrastructural globalisation as the way that “the building of technical systems for gathering global data helped to create global institutions and ways of thinking globally”. I interpreted infrastructural globalisation as the way that technology becomes a frame that the mind can use as a structure for thinking.

An obvious example of this would be the internet. The internet lays the foundation that gives us the ability to communicate and share information across the globe. It is with this infrastructure in place that we begin to re-think our place not only on a local scale, but on a global scale. Communities form that consist of members from different countries which exposes us to a variety of lifestyles and new knowledge. In this way internet, the underlying infrastructure, is what has allowed us to interact and think on a global scale.

Ways that we can apply infrastructural globalisation  to publishing could be the various news websites. Newspapers were previously very geographically focused and reported on news that were closer and more likely to affect the newsreaders. This was due to the medium (paper) and the industry practices (sending journalists out into the field in person), but compare this to news websites and we’ll find that not only has the content changed in form, but also in subject. Articles can be published online at any time, the use of emails means that authors no longer need to be in the same physical location as the publisher. News has also come to cover a larger scope, including local, national and world news, just take a look at ABC News.

Word: Aggregation



Edward, P N. (2010). Introduction. In: A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of global Warming. Cambridge: MIT Press. xiii-xvii.

Wark, M. (2004). Abstraction. In: A Hacket Manifesto. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. paragraphs 001-023.


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