It was the best of times and the worst of times for data academia this week, at least in my take on the articles. On the one hand, I found in the Robertson & Travaglia piece a really informative and concise overview of links between our ‘Big Data’ issues today and historical precedent in the 19th Century I hadn’t considered. The ‘Avalanche of Numbers’ fascinates me, and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard it specifically referred to before this point. I also appreciated the straightforward discussion on the perils of ‘deviant’ social categories in objective data, though of course that’s a topic that has haunted us since Week 1.
But what I enjoyed less, and therefore what will subsequently take up more of my attention, was “Understanding Social Media Logic.” Though I’m likely being a bit too hard on the article (polemics make better blog posts), I felt that while the four “grounding principles” might encompass a helpful tautology to serve as a starting point for a social media research project, overall they presented as curious choices to frame a discussion of social media ‘logic’ in relation to mass media logic.
Most simply put, I thought that both ‘programmability’ and ‘popularity’ both boiled down to human agency in a manner non-unique to social media. I don’t even think this was something obscured or manipulated for an unfair point—the article is straightforward that human agency is half of programming, and in the other half (technology) invokes Gillespie’s contention that in technical social media programming practice, human choices “have not vanished…[they] are processed imperceptibly and automatically” (6). Popularity, too, seems an almost-synonym for what’s already being discussed here, and I think the argument that the difference between social/mass media logic is that social media can measure popularity while also trying to influence it falls flat based on the direction of influence. The example here is that large groups of users can band together to influence popularity, but how is that any different from viewers of television programs or non-digital political activists (besides the higher efficiency of the social media platform)? There is a mention of platform owners using popularity to promote causes, but the given citation seems far more a textbook example of programming that could have existed on any broadcast news report from the last fifty years.
The final pillars (‘connectivity’ and ‘datafication’) seemed far more useful to me, but at this point I’m not sure about their framing and it seems the concepts might be mobilized more usefully in a different discussion. Especially considering the opening case study of the ridiculous behavior surrounding a teenager’s birthday party, the unpacking of these concepts as social media fallout could be handled far more specifically in relation to existing mass media logic.
How I’ll be dressed on Monday?