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.

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