Jason Grow for Al Jazeera America

Meet the Decoder: Sara M. Watson

This series will feature prominently voices that are personal, both yours and mine. As voices are so important here, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. I’m a technology critic and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. I’ve written about our relationship to technology in places like The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, and now here at Al Jazeera America.

For me, being a critic isn’t about taking a negative position. It’s about creating a more balanced and nuanced understanding of the role that technology plays in our everyday lives — good, bad and everything in-between. We have film critics and food critics; almost all cultural artifacts are subject to criticism, so why not approach technology with the same lens?

My approach to this series is influenced by my recent experience studying the social sciences at the Oxford Internet Institute. I learned a lot about anthropology as a means for understanding our human relationships to technology, and this discipline informs my approach to personal technology stories. I think a lot about the lived experience of technology, and I embed myself in the field by paying particular attention to default settings, which are often the way most of us experience technology.

I've also had some experience on the side of the platforms, talking to tech companies like Google and Microsoft and chief information officers when I was an enterprise technology analyst. So while I tend to advocate for consumers, I try to keep in mind the interests and goals of the companies that build and shape our technology as well.

My goal is to use this series to make data and algorithms a little less abstract and a little more accessible. Where possible, we’ll answer questions about what we know about data and how it’s being used. When the answers are less clear, we’ll at least know where to keep digging.

Hopefully you will walk away with a better understanding of the technologies you encounter every day. This series will offer a framework and vocabulary to begin to interrogate the data environments around us. And I hope policymakers and technology designers will be listening in to better understand our concerns, too.

I’m very excited to be launching this at Al Jazeera with its dedication to being “with the people — we tell real stories.”

Do you have questions about how your personal data is being used? Curious to learn more about your daily encounters with algorithms? Email The Decoder at or submit your question via the form here. Screen shots and links are helpful clues!

Living with Data

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter