The ledger and the diary: algorithmic knowledge and subjectivity

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In this article I suggest to read The Selfish Ledger, a short video created by Google, as a vignette to contemplate the ontology of knowledge in the age of big data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. The video proposes a radical vision for the future rendering of user-data into knowledge, thus laying bare the cultural coordinates underpinning a seemingly technical project of surveillance capitalism. With the metaphor of the selfish ledger the video articulates a new relationship between self, knowledge, and media. To unravel the assumptions underpinning the relationship between knowledge and subjects, I recall the original referent of the ledger in accounting, and compare it to a similar media: the personal diary. Both the ledger and the diary were developed around the same period and were sees as offering a new way of knowing. The ledger and the diary shared the assumption that monitoring and registering data in real-time and analyzing them over time yields new knowledge which is otherwise inaccessible. Where they differ radically is the role of the subject in the creation of that knowledge. While the ledger strives to create knowledge which bypasses human subjectivity, the diary assumes the entanglement of knowledge with subjectivity. Returning to the present, I argue that the selfish ledger represents a new relationship between media, knowledge and subjects: a media capable of creating knowledge without subjectivity, and explore the political ramifications of that.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-397
Number of pages20
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 May 2020


  • Subjectivity
  • accounting
  • algorithms
  • digital media
  • personal diary

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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