Big data and video

This is a write-up of a presentation I gave on Big Data at the 2014 National Media Market, in Charleston, SC, November 10, 2014.

One of the peculiar things about streaming is that the act of circulation happens digitally. The only way to “see” that act is digitally — via the data. Traditionally science has favored the quantitative, to the point that what the scientist sees or feels is not to be trusted. Machine-gathered data takes precedence.

Seeing the world via data raises some interesting questions about what we know and how we know it. We need to remember that the models that we use to structure the data, even visualize it, are just that — models, not the phenomenon itself. The map is not the territory. We must be vigilant not to become trapped in our models.

An aspect of this is the importance of remembering (and reclaiming) the all-important role of the human being in the process. Goethe, the author of Faust, was also an accomplished scientist. He brought his poetic sensibilities to his scientific work. He observed that the most important scientific instrument of all is the human being. He was pointing to the idea that there are other modes of knowing phenomena besides quantitatively — we can also know phenomena qualitatively, through our distinctively human faculties.

There is an old joke about a policeman, late at night, coming upon a man who obviously has had too much to drink, on his hands and knees, under a streetlamp. The policeman asks, “What are you doing?”

The drunk replies, “I’m looking for my keys.”

The policeman, trying to be helpful, asks, “Where did you drop them?”

The drunk answers, “Over there,” pointing down a dark alley.

Confused, the police asks, “Why are you looking for them here?”

To which the drunk replies, “Because this is where the light is.”

For the sake of argument, let’s say the phenomenon under investigation is what is happening to our collection, either as a distributor/vendor or as a librarian. Yes the light of data can help us, but we can’t know the phenomenon with just data. With video, there are many dimensions of the process of finding, circulating, watching and experiencing that cannot be captured by data. How can we know the impact of the video, how it affected the viewer, and maybe even transformed her or his life? I suggest that these human dimensions can be approached through human faculties like observation, conversation, reflection and imagination.