ARTS3091 Blog 5 – Data Dominance?

April 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Where on the above diagram does the colour ‘red’ stop occurring?

You would have a hard time saying 0 is not red, but what about 5? If you were to say 5 is pink, then what about 7?

We could play this game continually, moving into smaller and smaller increments and it is still doubtful that we would find an absolute point where the colour ‘red’ ceases to occur.

How does this relate to this week’s topic of Data?

There seems to be a growing suggestion that data will ‘rule the world’ and we will live “a data driven life” (Wolf, 2010: Title)

My argument is that there are some things that cannot be quantified. We can attempt to quantify them, as Chris Anderson (2008) argues in wired magazine “With enough data the numbers speak for themselves.”, but I would say that there are simply some things that cannot be quantified, and for this reason I would argue that data is an imperfect tool for measuring the world and, while it will have a considerable impact, will not control every facet of our life.

For example, a physicist would tell you that the colour red does occur at a specific wavelength of light. A perceptual physcologist will tell you that a combination of signals sent from different cones will result in you perceiving red. And a web designer will tell you red is #FF0000.

These forms of data are all effective at telling us what red is, but cannot tell us when red ceases to be. For example these above data tools can tell us almost certainly that 0 is red and 1 is not red, however would struggle to discern where red stops being. This is because the tool of data does not allow for this distinction to be made.

It is clear that while data provides interesting insights (even if they may be flawed) into aspects of being , it is just another tool we can use to attempt to attain some notion of truth.  As Simon Rogers (2011) states, data journalism is the same as any other form of journalism, be it investigative, citizen, opinion or photo journalism “it’s just journalism”.

I will conclude by saying that the world is both subjective and objective, and to use an objective brush to paint a picture of the world would be to paint an incomplete picture.

For this reason I believe data will not completely take over journalism, self tracking, or many other aspects of life.

Wolf, Gary (2010) ‘The Data-Driven Life’, The New York Times, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02self-measurement-t.html>

Rogers, Simon (2011) ‘Data journalism at the Guardian: what is it and how do we do it?’, The Guardian, Datablog, July 28, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jul/28/data-journalism>
Anderson, Chris (2008) ‘The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete’ < http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory>

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