The Bigger Picture

In David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know, he further discusses the largely disputed topic about having knowledge creation and circulation being based upon networked and open systems. Scientists, and scholars in general, really have no issues coming about with new factual information, but it’s the issue of connecting those newfound facts together. Bernard K. Forscher in his letter, titled “Chaos in the Brickyard,” describes that the issue within the new generation of scientists as one in which they were too preoccupied churning out ‘bricks’ of new information rather than indebting themselves to creating a solid, big picture (124). I could not agree more.

The Internet, in and of itself, is actually extremely hard to navigate because works of academia lie behind defense walls of closed source and open source systems, in which creates a fragmented picture of research based upon a particular topic. Strangely, this is not new to our society. Newton’s method to solve nonlinear equations was believed to be first discovered by Joseph Raphson fifty years before Newton, lost in the abyss of papers published without the advantages of open source accessibility. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins could not have the Nobel Prize if it were not for Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction work in the 1950s, yet many history books fail to mention the importance of her work. I am not arguing that such scholars should have removed recognition, but rather I am making the claim that a lot of research goes unnoticed due to the lack of connections to their work and the difficulty of overcoming the impact factor pressure still enforced by academic institutions.

Is there a way to solve such an issue? Not exactly. Particularly, I like the approach of Jean-Claude Bradley, an associate professor of chemistry at Drexel University, who began a blog called “UsefulChem” to document his research with chemical compound reactions against the malaria strain (139). Although it may be difficult to search for it and it may not be dependable upon credibility, I believe it is important to publish research as it is in progress. For diseases that impact populations in poverty or it impacts small populations (visit https://www.rarediseases.org to browse the numerous rare disorders and diseases that lack funding), it is hard to receive grants for research because it is not deemed profitable. Negative results are still results that may eventually lead the way to a cure.

We are now presented the opportunity to crowdsource and work together as a community to answer the many questions that having been plaguing mankind for centuries, yet we are still ruled by a system that demands a price tag for the knowledge presented to the public sphere. Open source information is important, but I am hungry for more. As an academic myself, it is inevitable in the process of research to encounter several sources that require payments or even special permission to use their own research. We undoubtedly have come from a long way in terms of open source accessibility, but there is much more that needs to be done.

 

Final Blog Post on Too Big to Know.

“What we’ve discussed so far in this book should lead us to hypothesize that scientific knowledge is taking on properties of its new, becoming, like the network in which it lives: (1) huge, (2) less hierarchical, (3) more continuously public, (4) less centrally filtered, (5) more open to differences, and (6) hyperlinked.” Weinberger (153)

Chapter eight’s focus is on whether leadership and decision making is affected by the networked Net. The answer is yes. Weinberger states that “because the new generation is having its expectations set by its Net experiences, decisions within hierarchies will increasingly take on characteristics of decisions made by networks” (Too Big to Know, 170). Leadership is now shifting to the group being led instead of being the responsibility of a single authority. “The change has occurred in part because the Net has made people more familiar with the benefits of connecting across hierarchical lines” says Weinberger (Too Big to Know, 161). On that account, the benefit is of having a fresh pair of eyes. Not long ago, it came to my attention that there is a noticeable differentiation in the way the Baby Boomer generation thinks compared to the Millenial generation. The distinction can be found in political views, religious views, social views, all the way down to eating habits. For example, I recently had a conversation with my boyfriend’s mother in which she disclosed to me how she is having a hard time convincing herself that she does not need a bread, a starch, a meat, and a vegetable at every meal because that was the frame of mind she was taught by her parents to have in regards to dinner. I found her predicament rather interesting compared to the eating habits of my generation. I find that my generation is not stuck in a set pattern, and I accredit that to the information on the internet. How is the internet changing the way my generation interacts with the world?   By giving us an overload of information through open access publishing and crowdsourcing that forces us to look closer and decide if what we currently believe is really the best choice out there. To offer a small sample to the scale I am talking about the way the internet affects how we think, several of my friends have joined the trend of an alternative eating style, such a Vegan, vegetarian, or Paleolithic. This is owed largely to the fact that the internet offers blogs and recipes that make being vegan look like the best choice, but there are sites for every eating style. Ultimately, the user chooses on their own. This is a departure from being affixed to one train of thought.

It was while I was watching two politicians, who of course were from the Baby Boomer generation, discuss an issue through horse blinders that I formulated my hypothesis that the internet is responsible for changing the way my generation confronts the world. I could most certainly be wrong, but I am of the opinion that an increasing number of Millennials are more open minded. This is because we get our information from more sources from an earlier age, not just passed down to us from our parents or from a single news station. Yes, the open knowledge aspect of the internet can get messy, but this is what shows us how diverse the opinions all around the world are; and because my generation is growing up in this era, we are not as stubborn to change our views when we find information contradicting what we had previously thought to be truth. Weinberger says in chapter nine that knowledge is a “web of connections that shows itself to us depending on our starting point, viewpoint, and inescapably human sense of what matters to us” (Too Big to Know, 180), and then several pages later, he adds that “we make ourselves stupid when we restrict ourselves to tolerating only the mildest disruptions of our comfort. For the Net to maximize its capacity for knowledge, then, we need to push past our urge to stick with people like us” (192). I do not believe the internet is making us stupid, I believe it is our resistance to change and our possessiveness of our prejudices. I agree with Weinberger that “If we want the Net to move knowledge forward, then we need to educate our children from the earliest possible age about how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference” (192).

 

 

Global Digital Humanities: Qs for 3.26 class discussion

  • Propose 1-3 questions, based on the practicalities, goals, rationales, and/or challenges of global digital humanities and/or Dr. Gil’s own pathway and interventions on this score, in response to the course prep materials for this week. Links below.
  • Share those qs by adding them in the comments section to this post.
  • The questions should be ones that would be useful for us to discuss with Dr. Alex Gil, this week’s Intro to Digital Humanities visiting expert at 1:30 p.m. Thursday 3.26
  • We ask that you post them here by 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening 3.25 
Links: Course Prep for 3.24 & 3.26 (links on d2l as well):

Balance

“A state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance”—this is Merriam-Webster’s definition of balance. The issue that suggests that close reading and distant reading dwell in a sort of unfavorable contrariety is really a matter of concern over how to balance their unique assets without unknowingly slipping into excessive dependency upon a computer that has only, at best, a measure of anthropomorphic essence. The real problem is how to know when to rely on one tactic or the other, and how much to do so.

In a way, close reading can be more extensive than distant reading. When a person reads closely and with attentiveness, the words that are encountered are then registered and these accumulate, forming a network of interactions and connections that are really only bound by the person’s own, individual level of imagination and openness. A computer, on the other hand, searches countless sources and materials for only a few words, the search terms, and whatever other words or associations happen to be attached to those search terms. Extensiveness is relative.

Distant reading should more often be regarded as a tool, an apparatus made to aid in the accomplishment of a task but still able to rely on the crucial component of human manipulation, which is especially imperative when considering the humanities. Large databases and the ability to be able to data mine are treasurable resources when this is kept in mind. However, the proper utilization of such a system can be difficult to carry out when what exactly is its appropriate form of employment is left ambiguous and equivocal.

Perhaps database programs require a drastic system overhaul in order to meet changing requirements. People have started to adapt to this situation as well. In “Theorizing Research Practices We Should Have Theorized Twenty Years Ago,” Ted Underwood illustrates a very interesting point in that computer scientists are and have been far more philosophical than many people think. He mentions the relevance of Boolean (true, false), and this is certainly a logic-based, philosophical concept. And, of course, there are much more nuances to the ways in which computer scientists and programmers are sensitive to changing environments. Those within the discipline of the humanities also find themselves having to adapt and learn techniques to take advantage of these databases.

In the end, professionals in nearly every field will find that adaption to technology is necessary and that balance is crucial. The notions of close reading and distant reading are only specific facets of a larger occurrence: the continuing compression and convergence of human and technological coexistence in the work field.

So little time

The old lament “So many books, so little time” that allegedly originated from Frank Zappa addresses a problem that the digital humanities hope to alleviate. However, as it begins to fix the problem of time consumption, there are concerns being raised over the research deficiencies that also follow.
A close reading is the act of meticulously examining a specific media. When a human does a close reading it involves the incorporation and the conceptualization of all prior knowledge collected. A human can make connections from the media being inspected to outside sources that were learned years and years prior that might not be obviously connected. A human also understands the humor and differing cultural aspects that might be embedded within the media. This insight, however, comes with a price in the form of hours and hours of time commitment and the possibility of human error. Take for example, the DailyCognition’s “Blog of Unusual & Funny News Worldwide” article titled “7 Illusions Illustrating how Powerful & Stupid Your Mind Can Be” where they share brain teasers to demonstrate how easily the human mind can be tricked. The first one on the list is the phrase “A bird in the the bush” where the second “the” is on the second line, so that the reader almost always misses it the first reading. The next teaser appears to be the word “Good”, but upon looking at it closer, the word evil is written within. Number six asks the visitor to read the following phrase and count how many times the letter “F” is in the text: “FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS….”. The average reader only counts three F’s the first time. However, there are six.
Converting to utilizing the internet search engines to find information and “read” the media, known as “distant reading”, has opened the possibility of completing a reading at the click of a button. Nevertheless, in order for it to work, one has to know what they are searching for. This creates a problem in that it operates within horse blinders. The search engine will provide you with the results relating to your search directly, but it might not offer other perspectives; or your results will be dependent on popularity. Stephen Ramsay points out in his article “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books” that
“The problem is that that much information probably exceeds our ability to create reliable guides to it. It is one thing to worry that your canon is not sufficiently inclusive, or broad, or representative. It is another thing when your canon has no better chance of being these things than a random selection.” (113).
As it stands right now, close reading and distant reading are most useful when they are used together. Distant reading can get you in range quicker and offer cliff notes for your topic, but one still needs to do a close reading if the true meaning is to be understood.

What Do We Do: Distantly Read a million books or Closely Read a hundred?

“Close Reading,” as I would envision, would be a dissected analysis of a particular work; this particular work may be poetry, a scientific dissertation, or even an illustration. For example, for many years it has been debated what the song “And Your Bird Can Sing” is really about on the Beatles’ 1966 record, Revolver (debatably one of the greatest records of all time, which is besides the point). Is it John Lennon’s musical response to Mick Jagger and his relationship with Marianne Faithfull? A song written simply because the band was stoned with the acclaimed Bob Dylan? No one knows, but still we take the time to analyze their cryptic ballads. Unlike the Beatles, I highly doubt William Shakespeare was writing under the influence of whimsical, eclectic drugs, but I do believe he did not intend for his poetry to be one-dimensional. Closing reading allows you to become an expert and rather than merely taking one message away from that particular work, you may recognize underlying messages that otherwise would be unacknowledged.

Unlike close reading, “Distant Reading,” by definition, would be a much used method by college students that believe the pressures of procrastination brings about the best work (this is false). To defend methods of distant reading, it widens your canon of information. You may not be an expert, like peers who have decided to close read Shakespeare’s sonnets, but you have a general understanding of differences between the sonnets of William Shakespeare, the blank verse poems of Lord Alfred Tennyson, and the lyric structure of John Keats. Similarly, they are all beautiful displays of language, but with distant reading, one may also learn to appreciate the history and the reasoning behind each poets work. Distant reading is commonly associated to “skimming,” an evil word that filters out what isn’t important. Believe it or not, all language is important: distant reading just allows individuals to develop a broader understanding for a particular subject matter.

In my personal opinion, close reading is preferred when evaluating a work(s), but again, distant reading is extremely helpful when time is of the essence. Both methods of reading have their drawbacks, with close reading resembling more a ‘search’ approach and distant reading having a ‘browse’ approach. In Stephen Ramsay’s “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books,” he speaks about looking for books within a bookstore. In a case of distant reading, poetry for example, I would aimlessly wander to the Barnes & Noble wall titled “Poetry.” After discovering such an abundance of literature, I may close a type of poetry I want to learn more about. I have the opportunity to narrow and widen my search as I please. In the end of trolling through the poetry section after consuming three cups of dark roast coffee; I will generally understand poetry as a whole (the differing structures, what a meter is, etc.). Yes, I will sacrifice the small details of why a poem is so legendary. William Shakespeare was known to hint to his other works within his plays, which brought much delight to loyal Shakespearean fans. As a distant reader, I may not understand such clever hints. Then again as a close reader I can divulge in the clever writing of Mister William Shakespeare, but I may miss out of the adventure of Dante and Virgil in the depths of Hell? We are faced with the decision of trying to distantly read a million books, or to closely read one hundred.

Close reading vs. Distant reading

When I hear the words “close reading”, I instantly think of paying close attention to the details of the text. It was not until I read the required reading for this week that I found out exactly how detailed and time consuming it was. The Shakespeare’s sonnet is made up with certain rules, like: not surpassing 14 lines, identifying a problem, as well as, a solution, and having a rhythm or rhyme. To fully understand what a “close reading” is, one must point out it’s benefits and it’s drawbacks. Benefits of close reading are: fine-toothed editing, disciplinary reading, great detail, and thought provoking. When I use close reading, I find that one must completely engulf themselves in the text to fully understand the meaning that the author intended. In doing this, it brings life and breath to the text. I have come to the conclusion that there are more benefits than drawbacks to close reading due to the fact that the text is dissected in a beautiful way and it is fully appreciated. The only two drawbacks of close reading that I can think of are: one, there are too many facets so that the reader may feel lost or overwhelmed by the text. The second drawback is the incapability of dissecting the text due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the words used. I feel like it does take time, patience and practice to fully understand the material, and some people do not have the skill or diligence to complete the task.

On the other side of the spectrum, “distant reading”, in my mind, is large masses of text material that is read by merely skimming over it. In this form of reading, the information that the author is trying to portray may not be fully understood. The benefits of “distant reading” are: mass amounts of material that can be covered in a short amount of time. This enables the reader the accessibility of all kinds of information. The drawbacks of “distant reading” are: an individual cannot fully understand nor appreciate the work of the author or the information that is shared.

Personally, I would choose “close reading” over “distant reading” mainly because I can put myself in the shoes of the writer and enjoy the material like the author may have. Even though it takes a longer period of time to go through the text word for word, it is rewording in the end.

The DIKW Pyramid and the Role of Forward Filtering

In short, Expert Labs is a conscious response to the fact that knowledge has rapidly gotten too big for its old container…

Especially containers that are shaped like pyramids. The idea that you could gather data and information and then extract value from them by reducing them with every step upward now seems overly controlled and wasteful.

-Weinberger, Ch. 1

Only a few days ago, my boyfriend asked me if I knew the origins of the pyramid as an informational tool, such as the DIKW Pyramid or the Food Pyramid, and why they are effective. I had not yet read Weinberger’s history and interpretation of the pyramid so I wondered the answers to those questions myself. We mutually did not understand the efficacy of it. The DIKW Pyramid does strongly and proportionally represent the expressions of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom and their order of origins or flow. But beyond that, the pyramid is a very limited representation of knowledge when it is appropriated to the evolving means of information access, ie. the Internet, and the modern reaction to information overload, which is again through technological forms.

The terms “overly controlled” and “wasteful” are incredibly apt of this new knowledge network that is formed from the Internet. It is described by the idea of forward filtering, which ensures an opposite environment of one that is controlled or wasteful. No content is deleted. In fact, content is actually created. The term “filter” is curious because the act of filtering implies the removal or obstruction of something, not typically including additions or supplementation. However, the semantics do not matter and the situation is still the same.

Interestingly, the concept of forward filtering seems to be both an asset and a burden. The benefit to forward filtering is the sustained or increased amount of information that is available and its provision of a way in which to organize some of that information. Having access to an infinite sum of sundry information is great. However, the problem arises in that in one’s lifetime one physically cannot access all of the compelling information that is on the Internet, and that predicament can become overwhelming, for me personally with increasing discomfort to the idea of neglecting or being unaware of something of interest, of crucial knowledge. Weinberger proposes “the fear that keeps us awake at night is not that all this information will cause us to have a mental breakdown but that we are not getting enough of the information we need.” While I believe this refers to the idea that it is not simply the staggering amount of information that is overwhelming but is actually the high measure of filtering that people have to do in order to remove that dubious feeling that the information they are considering is not quite right, this concept was the catalyst that influenced me to recognize my own anxiety regarding information overload. With all of the forces of real life plus the pull of the intrigue of countless informational resources available at one’s fingertips at any time, there still is not enough time to experience it all. I am left to wonder about the psychological impact of becoming so keenly aware of all of the information that is on the Internet. Perhaps I should Google it.

Rethinking the Value of Information

“And the fear that keeps us awake at night is not that all this information will cause us to have a mental breakdown, but that we are not getting enough of the information we need” (Weinberger 9).

      In Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), the encounter of information overload would induce varying levels of anxieties. In today’s world, we have come to accept this baggage. Although with an abundance of hesitation, we as individuals have become just as comfortable in the virtual world, if not more, than the reality remaining outside our desktops. Even being a millennial raised in the dawning of the technological era, it is overwhelmingly apparent that the profusion of readily available information via Internet has created a new pressure amongst eager intellectual beings. With the growing accessibility of a computer, the serenity I find in reading a book is beginning to appear archaic.

We want to be instantaneously knowledgeable, and we are never satisfied with the answer of uncertainty, so there lingers the anxiety of whether or not we are getting enough of the information we need. Weinberger swoops in for the save, and reassures us that this is exactly why we have filters (Algorithmic techniques and social tools). He says, “Algorithmic techniques use the vast memories and processing power of computers to manipulate swirling nebulae of data to find answers. The social tools help us find what’s interesting by using our friends’ choices as guides” (9).

The problem is that we as a society have always agreed that knowledge is power (I don’t disagree), but now without the limitations of publishing, everyone believes his or her ‘expertise’ on subject matter is important to share with the world. We have this newfound pressure to be knowledgeable, and rather than readily admitting we may not be knowledgeable in a particular subject, we use unconventional, lavish language to detour our lack of expertise in the subject, which is normally led by insufficient biases. There is no authority, and it leads us to wonder whether the information we are getting is valuable.

 

Knowledge

Back before Ackoff’s pyramid, back when the idea of knowledge first occurred to us, the ability to know our world was the essential difference between us and the other animals. It was our fulfillment as humans, our destiny. Knowledge itself fit together into a perfectly ordered whole.  Knowledge therefore was considered for thousands of years in the West to be an object of the most perfect beauty.

Following this specific quote Weinberger speaks of Darwin, Galileo, and Madam Curie.  These are just a few of history’s great minds.  Without these individuals, among many others, whom are willing to go against the grain for the sheer joy of knowledge these discoveries could have taken significantly longer to discover.

He quickly follows up with another statement of our ability to comprehend the vast knowledge we gain.

Our most basic strategy for understanding a world that far outruns our brain’s capacity has been to filter, winnow, and reduce it to something more manageable.

Our most intelligent beings are unable to retain the vast amounts of information throughout the world.  Filtering is a way for the most intelligent to some of our lesser educated people to understand the world around us.  There are experts in every field imaginable, but without being able to transfer that knowledge to others the information becomes useless.

Knowledge is power.  That specific saying is something that has stuck with me throughout my life.  Striving for knowledge is an honorable goal.  If filtering is something that must be done in order for the none experts to understand, then that is a valid choice.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.  With the statement I made in class the other day about over sharing, I realize that even though there is something I did not feel was important another could find it ideal information in a certain topic of research.

These two quotes are what has really spoken to me and how I feel about knowledge.  The world around us is a vast place, and if it means that some of the information is filtered for me to better understand, I am okay with that.  When I find something that really strikes my interest I can then dig further into books, articles, and other forms of documents to increase my understanding.