Data Friction makes the world go round

For this week’s entry, I will primarily be discussing Edwards’ notions of ‘data friction’ and ‘infrastructural globalism’. From what I understand from his writings on ‘A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming?’, Edwards argues that knowledge as we presently acquire typically consists of an archive of historical data that has been gathered throughout the years.

“Climate knowledge is knowledge about the past. It’s a form of history— the history of weather—and the infrastructure that creates climate knowledge works in the same way that historians work.”

The process involved in forging this information has been coined by Edwards as ‘data friction’. The information that exists out there is interwoven into a complex state of ‘knowledge’, yet we find new ways to develop on this by constantly seeking and converging new information. Therefore the process of ‘data friction’ plays a significant role in making data global, thus shaping our perceptions on reality.

As this information is gathered, it similarly influences ‘infrastructural globalism’. Edwards describes this term as the bringing together of global institutions and the introduction of global ways of thinking about certain things. Associations and conventions are formed to discuss matters concerning this particular ‘knowledge’, and political discussions and debates are raised.

This displays the magnitude of influence ‘data friction’ has upon society. We, as publics, constantly engage with existing data and discover new ways of interpreting it to build on existing knowledge.

In addition to climate change; there are other examples:


A couple years ago, the Australian photographer/artist Bill Henson had his exhibition shut down at Surry Hills because his artwork was deemed as inappropriate, insulting and was furthermore interpreted as child pornography.
As a result, infrastructural globalism was demonstrated through the causal of major debates amongst political groups and communities at NSW. When did nude art become ‘porn’? Where is the line drawn between pornography and art?
In the past with renowned artists such as Michael Angelo and Lucian Freud – it was acceptable for them to illustrate nude art. However, I believe it is because of the heavily mediated digitalized environment we now live in that we have become more cautious about issues regarding children in nude.
Therefore we’ve picked up on new data and have attached this to our former interpretation of ‘traditional nude art’, creating new meanings and ideas surrounding this subject matter.


In the past, it was deemed socially acceptable to smoke. However, in recent times, institutions and publics at large are advocating the need to stop smoking for obvious health reasons.
As we developed as a nation, we were able to identify the several health implications associated with smoking, alongside environmental effects. Gradually, we implemented policies to stop smoking because we were able to engage in ‘data friction’ of gathering relevant information, thus shaping our society as a whole.
Interestingly, and I believe this is what Edwards indicates in his writings, is that the information has always been out there. However, as we developed as a human race, we came up with new ways to dig up specific information in order to bring forth and make known this knowledge in a global scale.


Edwards, Paul N. (2010) A Vast Machine Cambridge, MA:MIT Press. Read pages xiii-xxiii (in “The Introduction’) and all of ‘Chapter One’. You can download both of these from <>.

This entry was published on May 27, 2012 at 1:13 am and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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