Informatics Seminar Series
Winter Quarter 2022

Friday, March 4, 2022

“Angels of Efficiency. Big Data, Visual Information Systems, and Consulting Before the Computer”

Florian Hoof
Research Associate, Institute of Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation
Leuphana University of Lüneburg

My talk looks at big data practices at the turn of the 20th century and how they emerged and solidified within the context of business consulting. While histories of big data and information technology are typically tied to the advent of cybernetics and computer technology, I deploy a different, sociomaterial genealogy of big data practices. I explore the ways in which the latest media technology, and avant-garde aesthetics, economic pressures, and holistic philosophy together constituted the form of consulting dominant today, and which consequences arise from this. It shows how visual charting, film, simulation devices, and calculation devices were used by consultants such as Lillian and Frank Gilbreth and Henry Gantt in business organizations. It describes the installation of planning and charting rooms, centralized spaces in which business data were collated and visualized. With this, different scenarios could be devised, graphically compared, and interpolated into the future. This form of visual management led to new business forecasting services and enabled a fast reaction to production disruptions, which needed to be facilitated in planning processes and accounting. Early big data practices created new ways to automatically unify, standardize, select and process information. Procedures and forms of data arise that share some similarities with concepts of computational data.

book link

Florian Hoof is a research associate at Institute of Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation, Leuphana University Lueneburg and an associated lecturer at Goethe-University Frankfurt. His research interests include media history, non-theatrical film, organization theory and digital cultures. He is the author of Angels of Efficiency. A Media History of Consulting (Oxford University Press 2020) and of Slippery Media (Palgrave 2022). Furthermore, he is coeditor of the forthcoming book Films that Work Harder. The Global Circulation of Industrial Cinema (Amsterdam University Press 2022). Recently published articles include: Culture, Technology, and Process in ‘Media Theories’: Toward a Shift in the Understanding of Media in Organizational Research. In: Organization 26(5) 636–654, 2019.

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