"It’s as if readers and critics alike want to focus on the feminist part while forgetting the black woman part of the Gay equation"

"The advent of Big Data has resurrected the fantasy of a social physics, promising a new data-driven technique for ratifying social facts with sheer algorithmic processing power."

Nathan Jurgenson, View From Nowhere

(via stoweboyd)

"We tell stories because we can’t not. We play because we can’t not. So my point – finally – is that just as stories are a direct line to the core of who we are as human beings, games and play are much the same. Before we were human, we played. I really believe that we learned to tell stories in part from our play, that one couldn’t have happened without the other"

"I’m no digital dualist: I don’t think our online lives exist in a reality different from offline life. They are aspects, different modes of relating, in an enmeshed single reality of cyber- and meatspace. As such I find the idea of a Glasshead just as tragic as that of any life overdetermined and enslaved to the demands of capital. Sometimes it just hurts more than others and people end up in psych units, involuntarily tapping their index fingers against their temples"

"If Big Data is neo-Positivist, and I think Jurgenson is certainly on to something with that characterization, it aims to transcend the earlier failure of Comteian Positivism. It acknowledges the irrationality of human behavior, but it construes it, paradoxically, as Predictable Irrationality. In other words, it suggests that we can know what we cannot understand"


"Nathan Jurgenson’s newest essay in The New Inquiry, reporting on the resurgence of positivism in the guise of Big Data, feels like a defeat for my field"

View From Nowhere

I wrote an essay on the cultural ideology of Big Data, how it is a return to positivism in social research that we haven’t seen done, funded, accepted, and spoken about with a straight face in decades. 

There’s lots of thoughts in here about OK Cupid president Christian Rudder’s new book, “Dataclysm”. I saw him on a panel a few weeks ago at the Brooklyn Book Festival and he kept relying on “human nature” to do his explanatory work for why his data says what it does. I critiqued that on Twitter and Laurie Penny from the audience did one better and asked him about it, so pointedly he switched his entire scheme, abandoned in a second human nature for “the capitalist system” (too bad his book’s already been printed!). It was a telling moment and indicative of the cultural logic of Big Data, one that got him a seven figure book deal, a spot on that panel he was so outmatched on, and most importantly, uses this research to create a technology to mediate our intimate social interactions, just as other companies do, as well as governmental and academic research, as well as data journalism and the rest of the Big Data industry.

It’s telling because “human nature”, or “the capitalist system” is a simple explanatory catch-all just as Big Data is being bought and sold as. I don’t think that the specific meanings of the nature of humanity or capitalism matter much to Rudder or the Big Data research whose papers so lack in theory sections. Instead, what Big Data does is what flippantly saying “human nature” or “capitalist system” does: it gives you a single, simple, answer. 

That’s what, for him and much of corporate social media, Big Data is:
the truth —quick, authoritative, and only entertaining uncertainty to the degree that it will be solved by tomorrow’s Bigger Data. 

Rudder was okay with looking like a fool on that panel. He makes a point to play up his lack of data skills in the book. Playing dumb serves a specific function, as I argue in my new essay linked to above: this is all about offloading explanatory power from the “expert
researcher” to data that is so big, so good, it speaks for itself. That’s the ruse: the dumber he looks, the better he can make that case (consciously or not). But no worry for him: he’s the one with special access.

Anyways, it’s easier to sell access to data than do the hard work of social research.

"Try to not think about how your writing makes you look. Try also to not look around. There are whole city blocks of well-bred, workmanlike, totally fine writers who’ve never written anything bad and who have, in consequence, chosen to be of very little, mattering mostly to people exactly like themselves, settling for widespread forgettability along with the guarantee of never being embarrassed. Be embarrassed. Be more afraid of doing wrong than being incorrect. Or, be more afraid of causing harm to others than of hurting your own reputation"