Data

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“Facts all come with points of view / Facts don’t do what I want them to.” – Mr. Byrne

Read the introduction to Raw Data Is an Oxymoron just now and it’s put a few things into my head, and maybe it’ll get me to take this concept of digital humanities more seriously.  Of course, data and raw data are just two out of many concepts related to this course, so I shouldn’t jump the gun.

I appreciate how Gitelman and Jackson seem to be asking more questions than providing answers, seem to be introducing the subject matter and the essays in the they’re editing as jumping-off-points for further discussion.  That seems like a good way to go about it.  We prefer questions, right?  Answers are so off-putting.

The authors stress that data is never raw – it never just exists on it’s own.  It’s always “cooked” (p.2).  Just as in phenomenology thingness comes into being by what we choose to perceive out of our notion of where said thing begins and ends, data is just as much, if not more, about what we’re choosing not to look at.  A cat is a cat insofar as it doesn’t exhibit dog qualities or behaviors or features, at least to how we see them.  If I am choosing to count red white and blue jelly-beans in a jar, I’m also choosing not to count the other colors.  Data are sets of things we want to see, and we use technology to see every larger – or smaller? – sets of like or related datum.

Which is great.  And fine.  And helpful, very often, because I’m sure these kinds of processes are behind some very important science.  But the authors here do reveal that data is a choice.  We choose to have data in our lives.  Or we don’t, insofar as the information technologies we use every day are often not thought of a things we choose to interact with.  I mean, we’d rather not deal with that inbox, right?  But again I’m reminded that values drive activities, and we probably value data and it’s use and interpretation… because it makes our masters richer!  Ha, no.  Not quite.

The pull-quote from this piece for my money is “Data need to be imagined as data to exist and function as such, and the imagination of data entails an interpretive base” (p.3).  Bullseye.  Data as the result of our imaginative doing, certainly not as objective as we like to think it is.

For me, maybe, this turns things right back to my central question for this course: what are the digital humanities, and do these kinds of questions or approaches have any real relevance for the humanities?  If data is something we imagine, couldn’t we do our authors and creators a better service by imagining what they might have hoped and wished for?  Or better, why can we imagine ourselves pleasantly reading or experiencing humanistic works for their own sakes?  Why imagine data, when it’s so much more enjoyable to imagine characters, scenes, and, I don’t know, beauty?

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