Sunday, January 19, 2014

Infoglut by Mark Andrejevic

Mark Andrejevic's Infoglut*: How Too Much Information is Changing the Way we Think and Know. Routledge, 2013.

We have all been hearing about Big Data. Many a magazine has devoted an issue to the topic, and libraries are exploring ways to provide access to and storage for Big Data in all of its many manifestations across the disciplines. In the humanities, at least one way that we think about big data is in terms of large searchable text databases derived from collections of novels, letters, newspapers, perhaps legislation, the files in full text databases, or even phone books. When we talk about mining these troves of raw text data, we take note of the way a query is constructed and the kind of stop list that is created because we know that these things can drive our results. We know that results are not precisely replicable. Conducting research with big data in the humanities requires attention to detail and process, but it seems pleasantly benign after reading Infoglut.

Variations on this catchy title carry through the table of contents with the chapters “Intelligence Glut,” “Emotional Glut,” “Future Glut,” “Glut Instinct,” “Neuro-Glut,” “Theory Glut,” and finally, “Cutting through the Glut.” These clever and descriptive chapter headings are the only cheery aspects of the book. For good news on our info world, cozy up with Richard Harper’s Texture: Human Expression in the Age of Communications Overload (MIT Press, 2010). Settle in for some serious reflection on life as a consumed consumer as you embark on the journey through Infoglut.

Andrejevic takes us through the monitoring, tracking, quantifying and auctioning off of our online lives as we share on social media, shop, and send emails. He describes a “post-truth” world of politics beyond the imagining of George Orwell, that takes advantage of the noise of information to float half-truths and inaccuracies, and you can add post-narrative and post-comprehension to your political vocabulary as well.  This is just the smallest taste of Andrejevic’s dark, but carefully argued text. While we see the advantages of the rapid advancement in technologies, we are not surprised that it comes with its cost. Server farms are energy hungry, privacy is easily relinquished, and truth is hard to come by. We are not strangers to these concerns in the library profession and this book reminds us of our roles in providing access without discrimination, protecting the privacy of our communities, and making available a wide range of perspectives with an eye to quality and reliability. So, I encourage you to take a look at a chapter or more of this book, but cue up your favorite comedy before calling it a night.

*Infoglut, according to the OED has been in the English language since at least 1984 appearing in the book The Netweaver's Sourcebook. It (almost) achieved title status early on in David Shenk's 1997 Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, and again in the Guardian in 2005. It also appears as the title to a book, the title of which, sounds more like a party:  Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Infoglut by Kristin Luker (You can get this book at the Free Library of Philadelphia). Find Infoglut at a library near you.

Any thoughts on info glut? There is plenty of room in this blog for a little more.

No comments: