I struggled a lot with this week’s readings.
Some of my difficulty is simple and individual– I’ve no experience producing data visualization, and little experience thinking about it. And also some suspicion about how “the sheer power of the graphical display of ‘information visualization’ (and its novelty within a humanities community newly enthralled with the toys of data mining and display)” can lead to sloppy use of data visualization. Although I recognize the potential of Data Visualization, I feel that the limited examples I have seen in my field have been superficial use of “the Shiny” intended to impress rather than to inform or provoke thought.
Some of my difficulty might be trivial, or maybe a sign of my outdated sensibilities: i noticed many more small errors in this week’s readings than in previous weeks– imperfections that heighten my sense that there is too much info being transmitted too quickly, without time or need for careful copy-editing, sacrificing precision and clarity; a sense that the authors may somehow feel that all since human communication is reductionist and transient, they just need to get their texts to be comprehensible-enough, and that any effort to achieve greater accuracy would be past some point of diminishing returns. One example that struck me in Drucker:
“A bar chart could compare daylight hours at different longitudes, or the average size of men and women in different countries…“
when what was meant was something like:
“the average size of *the population of* men and women…“.
(This not only makes more sense, but is clear from the description of the bar chart beginning two paragraphs down: “As an example, we can use that bar chart mentioned above, one that compares the percentage of men and women in various national populations at the present time”).
Manovich has many small syntactic errors, and I find that the effort it takes for me to correct for these (whether more or less consciously) comes at the expense of the energy i have for grasping and analyzing the arguments.
But the real motivation for my writing this post is: I am finding this week’s readings confronting as far as the limitations of DH.
Partly in a good way— i have been nodding along vigorously with our earlier readings, and suddenly my moral commitment to full open access is challenged by Guiliano’s and Heitman’s arguments in favor of considering restrictions to accord with the needs, rights, preferences of indigenous people. I am feeling some resistance to having my views challenged, with no appealing solution being offered as an alternative. I have become so accustomed to seeing multiplicity and customization as a solution to conflict– but it is not possible to make sensitive data selectively available in ways that will resolve the tension between, for example, a gender-restrictive tribal tradition and a woman within that traditional community who wants access to her family’s records, and my feminist values…. This is probably an important discomfort.
(note: when i say “not possible”, i do not just mean technically– the issues that Ashley addressed; i mean the ethical clashes between the right-to-know value of transparency and the right-not-to-be-exposed value of privacy and confidentiality).
More difficult: although I love Drucker’s insistence upon “capta”, which accords with some of our earlier readings about all texts being interpretation, and pushes these ideas further…. I find parts of her advocacy of more subjective representation to be somewhat inconsistent, incoherent, or maybe just beyond my capacity.
And, the reading that brought me here: the framing of Manovich’s attempt to advocate for “Direct Visualization” by presenting three examples. I am once again resistant as I read this, in part because he is trying to make a case that these are “direct” rather than “reductive”. Because I’ve already been convinced by our other readings, and life experience, that all representation is reductive. So I’m intolerant of his binary advocacy of “direct” visualization as an ideal alternative. I’d be much more open to hearing how and to what extent the different projects bring mediated, curated, or direct engagement with the user instead of feeling subjected to a defense of his pre-determined verdict that they are direct. This makes me think of Matt’s statements about the Digital Debates series– that it was important to insist upon contributions with “an argument” rather than simply descriptive case studies….
EDIT: I wrote this on monday, and let it sit. After a Text Analysis class last night, I am less troubled by Manovich. Now I would say instead that I reject his binary approach and his advocacy. I think that there are ways that Data Visualization can allow users’ more direct engagement with data and interpretation than other modes of presentation, and that such immediacy can have benefits, but that there are times when a more curated presentation might have greater benefits– and that the most important value, as we discussed last week, is for researchers to be as reflective and clear as possible about their aims, perspectives, data selection, limitations, and other aspects of their research and how they share it.
I am still feeling challenged by this week’s readings, but less grumpy about it because of the gift of Drucker’s formulation about all “data” being Capta.