ABSTRACT

This chapter reads The Selfish Ledger, a video-essay created by Google, as a vignette through which to contemplate the ontology of knowledge in the age of algorithms. The video offers a radical vision for the future of user-generated data, thus laying bare the political ramifications underpinning a seemingly technical project. Google uses the metaphor of the selfish ledger to articulate a new relationship between self, knowledge, and media. To explore it, the chapter recalls the original referent of the ledger in early modern accounting, and compare it to a similar media: the personal diary. Both the ledger and the diary were developed around the same period in the context of a new way of knowing. They shared the assumption that registering data in real-time and analyzing them over time yields a new kind of knowledge. But also differed in 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 vision, at the heart of which is the idea of media creating knowledge about the self without subjectivity.