“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.
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.