Data Walking with Keyword Bots: London Tottenham Court Road
This post is a guest submission by Annalisa Eichholzer, Katrin Fritsch, Louise Marie Hurel, Nina Chaganava and Devin Dong of the London School of Economics, reporting on an experimental data walk where a ‘keyword bot’ tweeted locations of potential interest during the walk.
Our data walk started at the intersection of New Oxford and Bloomsberry Street in central
London. After a while, each member of the group started to spot CCTV cameras, wifisymbols,
QR codes and various on-ground information such as gas, electricity and other
city services everywhere. It was an enlightening experience to reconsider the city through
data, and it triggered new discussions while walking. We realised how many areas of
surveillance we are exposed to on an everyday basis, as well as how many different
layers of data and information we came across while exploring the city.
The twitterbot gave us even more directions and opportunities to discover places which
we did not consider before. After some time, we decided to follow a tweet that the bot
suggested and unexpectedly ended up in front of an art gallery hosting an event. It turned
out to be a bizarre place, but as we already walked there because of the bot, we searched
for more data at the gallery and found social media links on the windows.
After that, our group found itself in a trade-off conflict, as both the bot and the navigator
gave us possible directions. The objectives were not easily to align, and a kind of
uncertainty in walking emerged that, in the tradition of the flâneur, should not be a
concern. Indeed, the navigator found itself in a position of negotiation and mediation
among different interests. This situation was interesting, but also challenging.
We further went to Tottenham Court Road, guided by the navigator, spotting a lot of data
in different places. When we entered Primark, even new perspectives came up: we found
data on where to go, how much prices were, and even big screens showing different
We ended our walk at the Tottenham Court Road metro station, being
surrounded by uncountable cameras to which we never paid attention before. This
especially made us question the notion of autonomy in the city, as we’ve realised how
much our walking and determination of routes is influenced by information and
surveillance. We could have walked and have discussed our findings for many more
hours, as the experience was so rich and opened up new debates.
In conclusion, data walking made us aware of new perspectives, new issues and new
layers of reality in a technologically mediated city, and mostly about what is perhaps the
digital “below the surface” of our mundane activities.