Last week, Master of None exhibited a new research project, Hacking Geodemography: Domestic/Data Vacancies at The Liberty Annex in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Included alongside four other recipients of Taubman College’s annual Research on the City grant, the project is, in brief, an investigation into the urban implications of consumer data collection used for the purpose of market research and profiling. The exhibit’s central focus is the role of geodemographic market segmentation sets—suites of consumer profiles constructed from aggregated data sources to establish consistent spending behavior among economically and demographically similar households. These sets, which often reduce each United States household to one of fifty or sixty consumer types, are an important input in market studies commissioned by local municipalities, real estate developers, and large retailers in advance of significant infrastructure or capital investments.
Why should you care? Well for one, I contributed significantly to both the project’s underlying research, as well as the production of the exhibit itself. So sure, this is a little shameless promotion for Team McLain—albeit one that will probably show up only in a Google search gone horribly awry (I doubt “geodemography” is a trending search term).
Beyond my own self-serving motives, however, is the fact that Hacking Geodemography’s research is quite timely. Between this summer’s revelation of the NSA’s Prism surveillance program by Edward Snowden, Twitter’s multi-billion IPO this week, and a handful of other events that have come to light in the interim, it is increasingly clear that pervasive data mining practices will be significant in shaping both the physical environment and individual interactions with it for generations to come.
Images from the opening (shown below) are now available via Taubman College’s flickr site.