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Samuel Lengen

Research Associate, University of Virginia

Research Interests

About Samuel

Samuel Lengen is a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Data Ethics and Justice in association with the Data Science Institute at the University of Virginia. His research explores the ethics of data and digital infrastructures with a focus on gender, social media, and government policy in China. Currently, Samuel is researching the implications of data capture in the context of digital platforms.

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Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog

View all of Samuel's posts on Platypus: The CASTAC Blog.

Critiquing Big Data in China and Beyond

“I do think that the Internet truly makes us feel the world can become a smaller place,” an interlocutor, whom I will call Bo, told me in his parents’ home in Shijiazhuang, a city in China’s Hebei Province. It was late 2014, and he was studying to become a filmmaker in Beijing. During our conversation, he told me about discovering Google Earth when he was younger, recalling how, suddenly, he could “see any place in the world” from the comfort of his home. He could zoom in to explore a mountain village in Iceland, a house, and even a village dog, feeling that, without Google Earth, he would never have been able to visit such faraway places. The experience might have been virtual (xuni), he mused, but it had also been real (zhenshi). His account expressed a kind of enthusiasm for the digital that I often encountered during my ethnographic fieldwork on digital opportunity in China. However, his story was made especially compelling by the oppressive smog plaguing the city outside. While neighboring buildings disappeared in a toxic fog, he expressed his excitement about “seeing” a digitally mediated “Google Earth.” (more…)