information>data>databases

By | November 11, 2014

In the film The Information Machine, information at its very basic level is shown as an animated person looking at objects around them (starfish, leaf, spider web), and storing them in their “active memory bank” heard as CHA-CHING. CHA-CHING=information (I find the onomatopoeia endearing). Information then, in terms of the film, is the “stuff” you (computers, etc) collect. And at some point, you use this information, hopefully, and are able to analyze and use it to solve a “problem at hand:” in other words using data.

 Data, cannot be without the concept of information since data are little pieces of information, and the database is where you can explore these little nuggets. I saw two sides of the database in our readings this week. On one side the database is a being a tool an enabler of exploration and new possibilities, and on the other as being devoid of a certain “humanity” and individuation. Tim Sherret, in the article “A Map and Some Pins,” speaks about the possibilities of using Trove’s API, and  in terms of accessibility he states that “[i]t opens those resources to transformation. It empowers us to move beyond ‘discovery’ as a mode of interaction to analyse, extract, visualize and play.”  The possibilities of databases are also shown in the Cultural Analytics projects, for example the Dziga Vertov data visualization, where the datasets explore a “top down” view of two of Vertov’s films, and by the end you can see relationships of individual frames. The database opens up a whole new way of creating relationships that are not physically possible in the physical world.

However, there is a flip side. Although databases are great tools, especially when they become accessible and malleable, there is the question of the data’s context. You can pin point anything on a map, where it becomes a data point, however “[w]hat is much harder to represent are the emotions that surrounded that visit.” Oftentimes, the human context gets lost in the data (although a person must control the database/machine etc) and it is up to the user to return it.

One thought on “information>data>databases

  1. shannon Post author

    Great, Ariana! Yes, database-based analytics do open up new avenues for inquiry — but the structure is also limiting: there are certain elements of experience and existence, for example, that simply don’t lend themselves to normalized presentation in a database.

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