Digital Dangers and Data Democratization

Sardar and Van Loon addressed the dangers of taking media at face value over a decade ago. Many of the same problems addressed in their graphic article persist within corporate media today. However, as “From Papyrus to Pixels” demonstrated, creation and distribution of media is becoming democratized through digitization. This means that, with the majority of human beings on the planet simultaneously creating and consuming content, there sometimes arises an abundance of ideas and opinions which rarely agree. However, the propagation of biased information is in no way a modern issue. If one were to check the young United State’s post-revolutionary presses, one would discover multiple cases of political slander, many perpetrated by the nation’s founding fathers. However, as humanity and technology progress onward, so does understanding. Many people are increasingly aware of biases within the corporate and private media. While many during the previous election cycle fell victim to misinformation, others became more informed, and more discerning. Instead of being a threat to intellectual progress, in many ways the digital data deluge is just the most recent, and most accessible contribution to the historical narrative. Despite its associated challenges, there are many positive results of widespread digital media.

Many advantages to the digital creation of history involve ease of access. Historical sources are currently limited to what relics physically survived. The majority of historical study is made more difficult by a lack of sources. For example, those sources which survived the Haitian Revolution are the sources made of lasting materials, and the sources deemed important enough to preserve. Until quite recently, information was limited to original documents, or physical copies of those documents, which have been either intentionally preserved or recently discovered, and  (specific to the example of the Haitian revolution) were only accessible by traveling to Haiti, or France. If a young researcher from America’s heartland decided, after reading a historical monograph about Toussaint Louverture, that her purpose was to research the great revolution of Saint Domingue, she would have to not only scrounge up travel expenses, but also learn traditional French as well as Haitian Creole. Access to materials over the past decade has grown increasingly simpler. While any serious Haitian scholar will still need to learn French and Haitian Creole, most modern studies of foreign lands do not require as much traveling. As time progresses not only are historical sources becoming more available, but the nature of public record itself is changing. While the Haitian revolution began mostly by word of mouth, more recent resistance movements (perhaps not as violent, but just as revolutionary) were begun by the stroke of a keypad. Individuals who self publish their memoirs in the method outlined in the reading, or who keep any form of social media are consciously (or subconsciously) contributing to the historical narrative. In many cases, these perspectives are less filtered, and less edited than many historical accounts. Future historians will not have to wonder how individuals reacted to historical events because those tweets are being archived, along with any photographic evidence. Born digital records also expand the scope of contributors, granting a platform to groups who traditionally had no means to voice their concerns in a meaningful public manner. These born digital archives will provide an abundance of historical resources to scholars who will have equal levels of access.

Despite these advantages, skeptics abound. Many people discount social media content because it is faster, less credible, and more liable to be manipulated. The article “From Papyrus to Pixels” examined the similar concerns revolving around the current creation of digital media, specifically in the form of books. This article particularly focused on the history of the written word, examining its various incarnations. Just as books have changed over the past centuries, so have historical records. In both cases, previous generations have called into question the legitimacy of any new public platform. This will likely never change. Regardless of technological advances older generations will contribute dissenting voices to debates on the validity of the newest mode of communication. As humanity progresses towards the digital age, it makes sense that the format of the written word becomes less written. In reality, many things have changed about the dispersal of information throughout society, but the mode of distribution should not minimize the validity of ideas.

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One thought on “Digital Dangers and Data Democratization

  1. dwoten1 says:

    Sorry to comment here, but there is a problem with my account creating new posts, so I was asked to just post my entry for this week as a comment on someone else’s entry:

    The readings this week took a look at one of the fundamental ideas in digital humanities, remediation. According to Bolter and Grusin, remediation (“the representation of one media in another”), is the “defining characteristic of the new digital media.” New technologies are not just created out of the void. Each advancement is built on top of all of the previous advancements in the relevant field. As “From Papyrus to Pixels” points out, this series of developments has been standard for books even well before the digital age. From self-publishing to giant mass-publishers, printing and business models have scaled upwards from scrolls to mass-market paperbacks to eBooks, allowing greater dissemination and participation to and by the public. Avenues are open now for writers to self-publish, often allowing them greater control over distribution and profits. It is interesting, though, that even with the growing popularity of the eBook and its ease of purchase and storage, consumers still vastly prefer physical books. “From Papyrus to Pixels” gives a number of compelling reason as to why this is, but most interesting is this preference’s effect on eBooks, not so much in sales as in aesthetics. The heavy preference of consumers for print over digital creates a severe desire for immediacy in eBooks. This desperation to mimic real books, though, often just makes it all the more obvious to the consumer that they are reading a digital book. With underwhelming simulated page turns (and sometimes sound!), hypermediacy seems unavoidable. Even just embracing the hypermediacy and trying to create something new with multimedia mixed in with eBooks has never really worked. People simply prefer the classic printed book.
    The internet has also complicated the types of books people purchase now as well. As pointed out in the readings, interest in instruction manuals and cook books is declining as that information is available more abundantly, more easily and more cheaply (usually read: free) on the internet. I honestly could not tell you the last time anybody I knew actually purchased a cook book. Publishers are having to rethink what books make sense to publish and how those books should be published. As the publishing methods slowly swing back towards the self-publishing that books saw originally, it will be interesting to see what other marketing schemes return (or are newly created) for digital books. The subscription model is unlikely to return, what with the steady decline of subscription-based periodicals. Perhaps an ad supported book series? Amazon has already attempted something similar to subsidize the cost of their Kindle eReader line, so it would not be completely shocking to the consumer. Or, perhaps, the secret lies in virtual reality, where the eBook can finally reach immediacy. If, of course, virtual reality itself ever can.

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