Knowledge is Power, Information is Beautiful, Data is Open, and Everything is Semantics

By | November 11, 2014

Every once and a while, after a carefully debated argument, the discussion will eventually end with a statement like, “Well, it’s just semantics anyways.” It’s such an innocuous little phrase that until this week’s reading I’d never really given it much thought. Of course, everything is semantics! Our language is incredible, it gives us powerful ways to view the world, ourselves, our purpose, and frankly it is incredible that we don’t find ourselves arguing about the meaning of words more often!

This week’s reading reminded me just how malleable and tenuous our understanding of seemingly ancient concepts are, and furthermore, how slight distinctions in meaning can lead to drastic changes in the way we live. Some of the questions that came to mind:

  1. Does objective data really exist? There seems to be a bias in many definitions of the word data that it is closest to fact, closest to reality. However, we each experience the world through our own subjective lens, so how could data ever escape this? As Tim Sherratt states in his talk, A Map and Some Pins: Open Data and Unlimited Horizons, “There is power in the definition of categories and the elaboration of significance.” For data to truly be objective we’d need to find a way to define and collect it without humans, which again leads to the question, can it objectively exist?
  2. What would our world be like without data? While certain types of data are almost completely naturalized, it’s important to remember that they are anything but. In an article from The Atlantic this week, programmer and artist Ben Grosser discusses an app he created to remove quantifiable updates from his Facebook feed because as he states,”There were times when I was more focused on the numbers than the content itself… I was more interested in how many likes I had instead of who liked it. I realized every time I logged in I looked at those numbers. Why was I caring? Why do I care so much?” Our lives are consumed by data that is completely man-made. I remember when the “like button” was introduced, how silly it seemed and now it is difficult to imagine a world without it.
  3. What is the difference between stories and information? Like its friend data, information seems to have an aura of objectivity. Information can be processed by machines so there is nothing irrational about it right? But stories and information both seem to inherently be about communication– relaying messages from a sender to a receiver. So why do we have such a general mistrust of stories, after all there is no American Society for Story Science and Technology?

So many questions from this reading– others include: Where does intelligence fit in the data, information, knowledge scheme? Can “knowledge” ever be outsourced to machines? Look forward to discussing more in class.

 

 

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