Weekend Reading: All the Data, So Many Problems

Starwars video game cassette

I was struck over the holiday week by two posts that both seem to illustrate the unfortunate triumph of (a version of) data over judgment. The first is the story of “Chuck Finley,” in which staff at the East Lake County Library invented a fake patron who seemed to check out thousands of books in order to fake out automated book weeding software. That story directly pits the judgment of librarians against a budget-enforced short-termism of administrators, and pointed to real risks that accrue from deferring blindly to data.

The second post was Chuq Von Rospach’s “Apple’s 2016 in Review”, which argues that the company has “gotten overly reliant on data to drive business decisions. Spreadsheets can tell you where the sweet spots in the market are and how to hit them, but they struggle at finding and bringing forward strategic areas that also need coverage… . Apple’s view of its users doesn’t match its users: I think Apple’s lost sight of its users.”

Taken together, the stories offer interesting perspectives on the ways data can mislead us into seemingly sensible decisions that turn out to have problematic long-term consequences.

On to this week’s links!

  • Kin Lane explains “domain literacy” and why it matters: In 2016, you either work on someone else’s farm (domain), or you work on your own, and increasingly folks are operating their personal lives and business worlds entirely on someone’s else’s domain.
  • Lots of folks are setting new goals for themselves these days, and Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests we “stop setting goals [we] don’t actually care about”: Many people fail on their professional development goals for the year because they take on a lot of goals — goals that they feel they “should” do but ultimately don’t energize them… . While the goal itself felt like it was something that fit the needs of their professional role, it didn’t match the individual’s preferences or ambitions.
  • Andrew Goldstone provides both a pre-print of his essay “Teaching Quantitative Methods: What Makes It Hard (In Literary Studies)” as well as a candid look at the “occasional desperate optimism” of the digital humanities: This optimism, where it is not simply a necessity of short-term institutional survival, has too much in common with the culture of coding autodidacticism, with its endless free tutorials, getting-started guides, walkthroughs, and cool demos. That culture feeds the dreams of the high-tech precariat, but it bears little relation to a training in research methods, which should promise just the opposite of instant gratification.
  • Normally, any talk of oral diseases would have me sprinting from my dentist’s office. But in this post Bruce Baum, senior editor of Oral Diseases, talks about how to keep a journal’s editorial team motivated: Baum is always cognizant of the fact that his editorial team is primarily made up of volunteers and he makes a point to regularly thank them for the time and expertise they bring to the journal, especially when associate editors go additional lengths to help ensure timely manuscript decisions are made.
  • Christine Friar explains why “being busy is not cool”: Think of the most successful person you know. The most fulfilled person. Maybe their job is popping off, maybe their relationships are really stable—whatever your metric is, I want you to conjure them in your head. When you talk to them, do they seem overwhelmed by their shit? Is it as though you have encountered a drowning person and they are grasping onto you for dear life? Or do they seem as though they try to take on only as much as they can handle at a given time and do their best to do a really good job at just those things? For me it’s the latter. I would like to be like them.

In this week’s video, take a look at the iPhone that have been: a prototype iPhone with an interface based on an iPod, rather than a version of OS X:

Also: Car Seat Headrest, “Fill In the Blank”

Photo “I just finished reading Ready Player One –> Geek Flashback” by Flickr user Steve Jurvetson / Creative Commons licensed BY–2.0

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