August 28: From Profusions of Papers and Pictures to Data Deluge

McArthur Binion, Modern:Ancient:Brown at Lehmann Maupin, photo by me

Introductions + Orientation

The last two years have been an epistemological minefield. Between alternative facts and Russian bots, leaking and doxxing, Twitter (anti-)diplomacy and conspiracy theories, and threatened cuts for libraries and climate research, it’s difficult to discern what forms of knowing (if any) our current administration values.

Today, as we preview the various themes and concepts we’ll be exploring throughout the semester, we’ll also consider how these concerns are particularly resonant – and of critical importance – in our contemporary climate: political, cultural, socioeconomic, and ecological. Issues of privacy, visibility, and representation; of veracity and credibility; of accessibility and sustainability: all are pertinent to the realms of information management, scholarship, creative production, cultural politics, and beyond. What role can, or should, our knowledge infrastructures – both official institutions and informal, “rogue” activities; both mega-databanks and modest community archives – play in cultivating a better educated, more equitable, more just society? A society that recognizes the value of learning and compassion and aesthetic pleasure?

We’ll start thinking about these questions today, and continue our exploration throughout the semester.

We’ll also look ahead to our in-class activity for next week, when we’ll diagram a contemporary information system. We need to choose one (or two) case(s) to investigate in small groups. Here are just a few options, although we can certainly explore others:[2]

Safe Haven Ophanage Library, Burma, via Pasi Aalto / Tyin Tegnestue, via ArchDaily


Ann Blair, “Information Overload, Then and Now,” The Chronicle Review (November 28, 2010); Ann Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); danah boyd and Kate Crawford, “Critical Questions for Big Data,” Information, Communication and Society 15:5 (2012): 662-79; John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000); Alberto Cevolini, ed., Forgetting Machines: Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe (Boston: Brill, 2016); “The Data DelugeThe Economist (25 February 2010); “Data, Data Everywhere” Special Report The Economist (25 February 2010); Rob Kitchin, “Big Data, New Epistemologies and Paradigm Shifts,” Big Data & Society (April – June, 2014): 1-12; Rob Kitchin, The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2014); Rob Kitchin and Gavin McArdle, “What Makes Big Data, Big Data? Exploring the Ontological Characteristics of 26 Datasets,” Big Data & Society 3:1 (February 2016): 1-10; Daniel Letvin, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (New York: Dutton, 2014); Shannon Mattern, “Public In/Formation,” Places Journal (November 2016); Open Scholarship Initiative, Report from the Information Overload Workgroup (June 23, 2016); Hamish Robertson and Joanne Travaglia “Big Data Problems We Face Today Can Be Traced to the Social Ordering Practices of the 19th Century,” LSE Blog (October 13, 2015); Daniel Rosenberg, “Early Modern Information Overload,” Journal of the History of Ideas 64:1 (January 2003): 1-9; Clay Shirky, “It’s Not Information Overload, It’s Filter Failure” {video} O’Reilly Web 2.0 Expo NY (2008); Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety 2 (Que, 2000); Ilkka Tuomi, “Data Is More than Knowledge: Implications of the Reversed Knowledge Hierarchy,” Journal of Management Information Systems 16:3 (Winter 1999/2000): 103-17; Chaim Zins, “Conceptual Approaches for Defining Data, Information, and Knowledge” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58:4 (January 2007): 479-93.

  1. Thanks to Twitter friends who helped me identify case studies for this exercise!

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