Dr Adam Guy
Departmental Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature
Faculty of English
Harris Manchester College
That our data is harvested wherever we go and whatever we do is a fact of life under late capitalism. From online searches, to payment and purchasing information, to location and medical data, we are tracked, profiled, and surveilled at every turn. The implications here for individual rights, for democracy, and for governance are well-known.
But data is collected too in ostensibly autonomous or benign areas – where the stakes are conventionally perceived to be low. One such area is literary reading. When we read a novel on an e-reader, many aspects of our reading behaviour are tracked, from the works we choose to read, to the speed at which that reading takes place, to the notes we take or the highlights we make as we move through the text.
Privacy Settings brings together work on privacy ethics and data-based approaches to literary studies, with a view to clarifying and refining critical understanding of what data-harvesting of literary reading is currently doing, what ethical dilemmas it poses (both for privacy campaigners and literary critics), and what action can (or should) be available to readers to control the flow and use of their data.
The project centres on an experimental book club. Week-by- week, we will read Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You, a major recent novel and one that has much to say about private life and its digital mediation. Participants will read the book on the free Amazon Kindle app. Once the reading is completed, participants will request the data that Amazon collects through the Kindle app; we will pool the results, and see what we can learn. From there, a variety of forums will be created for participants and others to reflect on the project's findings.
This project is funded by the Minderoo AI Challenge Fund.