This is a very interesting article in The Awl by Trevor Butterworth, “Goodbye Anecdotes! The Age of Big Data Demands Real Criticism”. What happens when we get the technology to collect and analyse the enormous amounts of information we produce in the world? Well, something more than just marketing opportunities happens and this is why I have always been more optimistic about than frightened by the information economy..
This kind of analysis doesn’t just end arguments it buries them and salts the earth—unless you are prepared to raise the stakes with your own Big Data-mining operation. Either way, we’ve dispensed with what you or I think of the media—and the fact that everyone who consumes media gets to be a “media critic”—and empowered a kind of evidence-based discussion. Think about all the pointlessness that can be taken out of arguments about political bias in the media if you can, in real time, dissect and aggregate all the media coverage at any given moment on any question. In the possibility of providing big answers, Big Crit frees us to move the argument forward. If the data is so decisive on gender bias, we now have a rational obligation to ask why is that the case and what might be done about it.
It’s really a worthwhile read, although the most interesting thought in the whole piece is right at the end and I wish Butterworth had explored this argument of his better.
The hidden meta-narratives starring the virtual you don’t just demand criticism because they involve new forms of hidden power (and because all power is encoded with assumptions about what philosophers call “the good”), they renew criticism by revitalizing the notion of critical authority. We can, in fact, say very definite things about the textual and numerical nature of the digiverse because we’ve stepped back into modernity through a new kind of technological flourishing; and, as with our previous adventures in modernism, it’s a place where the critic is indispensable.