Book Review – The Survival Guide for Big Data

Reaction Notes

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier’s book, Big Data: A Revolution that will transform how we live and think (2013), prepares you for the world of big data, the world we now live in. Honestly, I don’t know how I got by without this book before now. Sure, Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier might be a little gung ho about the concept of big data, but there is plenty of useful information between the covers of this survival guide for big data. An easy read, this book is simple enough for the technical naïve to finish with a thorough understanding of big data.

Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier do a good job delineating big data from statistics. Statistics arose out of necessity when it became too costly and time consuming to gather an entire set of data. But nowadays literally analyzing an entire population is a reality with little extra time or cost. Being able to do this changes everything. Statistics is a hard-and-fast method for analyzing large populations so it makes sense that people don’t necessarily want to let go of it. Statisticians are skeptical of big data because it is a messy science. However, throughout the book the authors maintain that the sheer size of big data makes up for any shortcomings due to errors.

The history of data is particularly interesting. Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier explain the evolution of big data using nicely contemplated examples from the past and present. They talk about how humans have been keeping track of things ever since civilization began in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. They refer to the 1880 US Census that took a whopping 8 years to complete which consequently spurred the first automated data collection in the following census (pp. 21-22). I loved hearing the story of Commander Maury, who turned an unfortunate incident that put him behind a desk into an opportunity to revolutionize sailing methods by analyzing data from torn and tattered ship logs (pp. 73-76). It was even interesting hearing the not so distant history of companies like Google and Amazon, though not as fun as the older stuff.

All their ambitious ideas about big data are tempered with the ethical discussions that concern everyone. Privacy is a big one. Many people do not know how much personal information is being gleaned from our data exhaust. It’s creepy! The causation vs correlation argument is something that should concern people if we end up in a world like Minority Report. There is certainly a lot of good that can come of predicting things using correlations, but we should draw the line somewhere. Also, we should be worried about the immense power wielded by those who have all of the data.

The only criticisms I have are that it gets a little repetitive and a little preachy. In their defense, the authors want to hammer home certain key points for the sake of our future. After all, the book is about understanding the concept of data which continues to grow, expand and improve at an exponential rate. We are in the midst of the biggest informational revolution since the Gutenberg press. This comprehensive book has everything you need to know about big data. Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier keep it interesting with fun examples to explain it all. It’s a big data world out there. After reading this book I understand it a little better.

Reference

Mayer-Schönberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Reading Response #5 – Brain Exploding Now

Reading Responses

Both of these authors talk about collaboration in the information age. The both have realistic, matter-of-fact perspectives. I know “realistic” and “matter-of-fact” both are sort of ambiguous terms; as are these articles. Both of them say a lot in just a few words. I think they are both motivated by the speed of information these days. There’s no right or wrong philosophy when the world it moving so fast. It’s all about how thought provoking you can be in a few hundred words.

Hollis Phelps examines the recent situation of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Phelps’ heart was broken when his favorite scholar was accused of plagiarism, and I understand why. If my favorite athlete was accused of using steroids or something like that, I’d be disappointed too. Plagiarism is the equivalent of cheating in the academic world, a big no-no. Phelps has a conflicted opinion about Žižek. He doesn’t excuse him for what he did, but he objectively examines the situation. Too much emphasis is put on new and original thought. If someone relies too heavily on another’s work, it is considered derivative and secondary sources are taboo, especially for a scholar of Žižek’s stature. Phelps uses this instance to show that even the most brilliant minds make mistakes. He believes people should not be judged so harshly for using the work of others. After all, isn’t that what academia is all about, building knowledge upon strong principles?

The interview with Clay Shirky covers a lot of ideas in a very short span. Words cannot describe my response.

Where do I start? First he talks about collaboration. The title of his interview seems to have dual meaning. For the know-it-all in everyone, having to collaborate feels like a disruption. Anyone that has ever been lost in a car and refuses to stop and ask for directions will agree. Of course that is not what he means, although the duality was probably intended. He means that the collaborative power of the internet has completely changed the way the world works now. He says the “collaborative range” is expanding because it simply isn’t necessary to operate in tight-knit groups anymore. It has disrupted everything. He talks about how business models have been turned upside down because of the “abundance” of resources on the internet and mentions how the internet is choking all other forms of media, sure enough. He doesn’t give an answer though, doesn’t attempt one or acknowledge that maybe there isn’t one. He just comments and it is thought provoking, hence the video. I liked the motivational metaphor at the end of his blurb. It’s okay if things don’t work out according to plan A as long as they work out.

The moral of both articles is that it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it is almost absolutely necessary to ask for help. The world is just too connected and competitive. Make sure to give proper credit to your collaborators. The kooky thing is that they both mention Wikipedia and other sometimes anonymous sharing of knowledge. What is the proper thing to do in that instance? If you can’t hold someone hostage for their ideas, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. Does it?

References

Phelps, H. (2014, July 17). Žižek, plagiarism and the lowering of expectations. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/07/17/%C5%BEi%C5%BEek-plagiarism-and-lowering-expectations-essay

The disruptive power of collaboration [Interview by C. Shirky]. (2014, March). McKinsey & Co. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/The_disruptive_power_of_collaboration_An_interview_with_Clay_Shirky?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1403

Literary Review – Can certain YouTube videos be considered folklore?

Writing Assignments

How has YouTube affected the dynamic between folk culture and pop culture? Digital technology has changed many aspects of our lives. Culture and YouTube are both enormous topics to try to dissect. One challenge with this topic is defining what exactly folk culture is. A definition helps to clarify what on YouTube can be considered folklore. Then, hopefully, a comparison between folk and popular culture might be possible to see if any conclusions may be drawn.

In the article “Toward a Definition of Folklore” (1971), Dan Ben-Amos establishes new criteria for describing folk culture. Although his article is over forty years old, it has seen new light in the emerging interactive domain of Web 2.0. Ben-Amos’s definition differs from earlier folklorist versions in many ways. He makes clear his reasons for altering the definition:

“Folklorists themselves resorted to enumerative, intuitive and operational definitions; yet, while all these certainly contributed to the clarification of the nature of folklore, at the same time they circumvented the main issue, namely the isolation of the unifying issue that joins jokes, myths, gestures and legends, costumes and music into a single category of knowledge.” (p. 3 Ben-Amos, 1971)

Ben-Amos believes that earlier definitions are more restrictive in certain ways. Some confine folklore to only traditions, which implies a maturation process, as if folklore must be of a certain age to make the cut. Other limiting definitions suggest that folklore has more to do with social development. Ergo, folklore must originate in primitive societies to be considered as such (p.4).  Ben Amos finds that all definitions reference folklore as being either “a body of knowledge, a mode of thought, or a kind of art” (p. 5). Although folklore can be any of these things, obviously all of these things are not folklore. Folklore can be distinguished from other cultural forms by its anonymous origin and collective face-to-face transmission and creation by a group, hence folk. For example, Plato’s philosophy belongs to him (Plato); therefore it isn’t folklore because it comes from a singular known source. Ben-Amos concludes that folklore is a communicative process that takes place in small groups (p.13). Folklore changes as it is transmitted from person to person. Each player adds something to its meaning like a quilt.

Despite the liberality of Ben-Amos’ definition, he still confines folklore to oral transfer of thought. He cites Marshall McLuhan (1964) famous theory, “The medium is the message”, as support. Other forms of mass media such as printed word and illustration, radio and television are more passive than folklore. They are duplicated and diffused in their original form with little or no opportunity for interpretation or “re-creation” by the audience (Ben-Amos 1971). However, the interactive power of Web 2.0 has heralded new interpretations of the definition of folklore.

Trevor J. Blank builds a case for a new folklore definition if his anthology Folk Culture in the Digital Age (2012). He hypothesizes that:

“It may appear that the identification of ‘folkness’ via a technological medium (such as the internet) is presumptuous, or worse, inherently ‘non-folk’… However, there is an inborn ‘folk’ presence in cyberspace by virtue of the fact that people are behind nearly every symbolic interaction that takes place online.” (p. 2)

His anthology is a collection of scholarly articles that approach a new definition of folk culture using Ben-Amos’s contextual definition while re-interpreting the oral requirement.

Robert Glen Howard relays the early history of the personal computer as it relates to folk culture in “How Counterculture Helped put the Vernacular in Vernacular Webs” (2012). Folk culture is symbolically opposed to large institutions since it originates in small organic groups. Howard believes the personal computer arose in a similar fashion. Circa 1974, in the San Francisco Bay area, a small group of computer hobbyists formed as a result of a new inexpensive computer chip that became available. On its own, it was virtually useless, basically a processor housed inside of a box with LEDs. But the chip had the processing power of a large corporate computer which at the time had a base price of $265,165, the main difference being the complete lack of any sort of hardware or software. The group of hobbyists, which included future moguls such as Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, shared ideas through a small circulation called “The Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter” (pp. 32-4 Howard). Through collaboration, this quirky, private newsletter facilitated inexpensive new software and hardware solutions. You might say this newsletter was the patchwork quilt or the singsong of the personal computer that catapulted it into mainstream culture.

As convincing as this all sounds, the patchwork newsletter still lacks the face-to-face performance component that defines folk culture which has a lot to do with why written works are generally excluded from the category. The immediate gestural response of the audience can help shape the “communicative event” (p. 10 Ben-Amos, 1971). This is also an issue with YouTube because there is a slight delay between when a video is recorded and uploaded. Although face to face communication is possible via Skype, an immediate response can never be exchanged over YouTube due to the time delay. In the article “Performance 2.0” (2012), Scholar Anthony Bak Buccitelli points out that there are instances of quilt making where a temporal delay exists within the group during the creation of the artwork. He argues that even though YouTube videos differ from traditional folk performance because of the time delay, they are analogous to material folklore (pp. 74-5).

YouTube videos have not yet been accepted by folklorists as true folklore, but there is a large portion of the discipline that recognizes the inherent folk quality of the medium. The theme of the book Folk Culture in the Digital Age: The Emergent Dynamics of Human Interaction (2012), edited by T. J. Blank, is that the contemporary definition of folklore should be modified to include folk culture that utilizes digital media.

References

Ben-Amos, D. (1971). Toward a definition of folklore in context. The Journal of American Folklore, 84(331), 3-15. doi: 10.2307/539729

Blank, T. J. (2012). Folk culture in the digital age: The emergent dynamics of human interaction. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Buccitelli, A. B. (2012). Performance 2.0. In T. J. Blank (Ed.), Folk culture in the digital age: The emergent dynamics of human expression (pp. 60-83). Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. doi: 10.7330/9780874218909.c03

Howard, R. G. (2012). How counterculture helped put the ‘vernacular’ in vernacular webs. In T. J. Blank (Ed.), Folk culture in the digital age: The emergent dynamics of human expression (pp. 25-45). Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. doi: 10.7330/9780874218909.c01

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man (pp. 23-39). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Reading Response #4 – Google, Google, Hallelujah!

Reading Responses

This week’s reading response blog is all about values. Big data has opened up a new world of possibilities with a bunch of ethical questions to boot. Are we making a big mistake? Are we getting privacy the wrong way round? What is evil to Google? These are just some of the questions that people are asking. Let’s see what the professionals have to say!

Tim Harford, an Oxford Economist, asks if we are making a big mistake in his aptly titled article. He believes our faith in big data may be misplaced. According to him, “‘big data’ is a vague term, often thrown around by people with something to sell” (Harford 2014). A lot of people want to think that big data can solve all of our problems. Basically, he thinks it’s a bit too messy of a science to be abandoning our old methods just yet. He believes good old statistics may still be the least biased way of analyzing data, using simple random samples. The notion that N=all is not true and probably never will be true. No matter how large the dataset, there will always be flaws and bias in the data and its massive nature makes errors harder to detect. He uses the example of when Google Flu Trends overstated its predictions by a factor of two because it didn’t account for heightened flu awareness from the media.

Kieron O’Hara is another Oxford scholar who actually wears oxfords. He is worried that privacy is getting harder to come by and says, “People aren’t really interested in it any more” (p. 90 O’Hara, 2013). He shows how pervasive data mining from social networks is used for marketing purposes and more. In the long run, he thinks that we all benefit from this lack of privacy. But it should be regulated and there ought to be transparency. He believes our fates shouldn’t be in the hands of just a few massive internet companies, we have a right to know what is being done with our personal information.

Ian Bogost, the author of “What is Evil to Google?”, wears Velcro shoes. His article is a commentary on the irony of Google’s unofficial slogan “Don’t be evil”. He gives a little history lesson about how it came to be and what it used to mean. Now that Google has become ubiquitous, “[It] doesn’t need to exercise any moral judgement other than whatever it will have done,” proclaims Bogost. That is powerful stuff. He’s basically comparing Google to another word that begins with a capital “G” and an “o”. Whatever gets in the way of Google is evil to Google.

The only thing that comes close to the endlessness of big data is the amount of conversations people are having about it. Big data will change the world of the future so it is important for everyone to understand, if not affect its implementation. What concerns these authors is that people seem to be so complicit about the whole deal. All of these scholars recognize that big data can do a lot of good. But it is still a new concept. If we learn more about it, we can shape its future instead of letting it shape ours.

References

Bogost, I. (2013, October 25). What is evil to Google? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/what-is-evil-to-google/280573/2/

Harford, T. (2014, March 28). Big data: Are we making a big mistake? – FT.com. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/21a6e7d8-b479-11e3-a09a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2ziUgQIoH

O’hara, K. (2013). Are we getting privacy the wrong way round? IEEE Internet Computing, 17(4), 89-92. doi: 10.1109/MIC.2013.62

Annotated Bibliography – Here we go!

Reaction Notes

References

Bakula, D. (2014, April 22). Behind the music (video): How important are videos to both artists and brands? Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/behind-the-music-video-how-important-are-videos-to-both-artists-and-brands.html

This article reports the value of music videos for artists to gain publicity and build a fanbase. It also recognizes the success brands have achieved through product placement within the videos. Nielsen is a major media research firm that gathers rating data from, TV, radio, internet, cable and satellite broadcasts. Much of the analysis from these articles is based on first hand data. This report could be used to show that streaming media is beneficial to certain musicians, in my essay.

Ben-Amos, D. (1971). Toward a definition of folklore in context. Journal of American Folklore, 84(331), 3-15. doi: 10.2307/539729.

This is a seminal article that attempts to define the many aspects and characteristics of folklore. It outlines the ways traditional folklore has been transmitted orally among small groups. Numerous folklore scholars have referenced this article. It will help to differentiate folk culture from popular culture and lay the groundwork for comparisons to internet based social media. The article also talks about the relationship between the performer and the audience which is of particular interest to my argument.

Blank, T. J. (2012). Pattern in the virtual folk culture of computer-mediated communication [Introduction]. In Folk culture in the digital age: The emergent dynamics of human interaction (pp. 1-24). Logan, Utah): Utah State University Press.

This is a recent scholarly work published by the Utah State University. It is somewhat of a base article for my argument. It identifies the importance of folk culture and what people are saying about how it has migrated to social media. The article goes through several possible avenues for framing my thesis as well as numerous primary sources. Folk culture is inherently technophobic, but because social media is immediate person to person communication, the definition is changing.

Dewenter, R., Haucap, J., & Wenzel, T. (2012). On file sharing with indirect network effects between concert ticket sales and music recordings. Journal of Media Economics, 25(3), 168-178. doi: 10.1080/08997764.2012.700974

This scholarly journal article assesses the relationship between music downloading and concert ticket sales. It creates a logical framework for comparing two indirectly related markets. Their study showed that increases in either market positively benefited the other. It also assessed the effects of illegal downloading which is akin to free streaming from a revenue standpoint. It will be helpful to compare these markets when forming my thesis.

Edmond, M. (2014). Here we go again: Music videos after YouTube. Television and News Media, 15(4), 305-320. doi: 10.1177/1527476412465901

This article discusses the evolution of music videos as they migrated from TV to the Internet. Although TV virtually fazed them out, they are the largest pull for audiences on YouTube. Once just an elaborate marketing tool, now they are real revenue drivers for artists. If so, which ones? – a small elite group I suspect. Is there a way weed these results out and make valid comparisons?

Holt, F. (2011). Is music becoming more visual? Online video content in the music industry. Visual Studies, 26(1), 50-61. doi: 10.1080/1472586X.2011.548489

This article presents the argument that music is becoming more visual. As supporting details, it lays out the history of music videos, gives examples of online concerts, and tracks the success of a band as evidence. This is an interesting article. I’m not sure how useful it will be in the long run but it does look at how YouTube has changed the industry and may contain some valuable sources in the reference list.

Luckerson, V. (2014, January 6). Spotify and YouTube are just killing digital music sales. Time.com. Retrieved September 10, 2014.

This website represents an opposing viewpoint from the first few articles I have read. It argues that Spotify and YouTube are obliteration revenue that was once gained by Physical album sales. Now even digital purchases are in decline because it is just too easy to acquire music at no charge. It seems not all of the artists are so fond of the switch to free entertainment via the Web.

Rehman, M. (2006). Culture matters impact on the effectiveness of TV advertising. The Journal of Commerce, 1(1), 69-84. Retrieved September 21, 2014.

This article studies a current advertising campaign and shows how culture is an intrinsic part of mass media advertising. It is a scholarly article. It is particularly interesting because it targets a specific culture with strict cultural memes. This article may be useful and it might not depending on how much I limit my thesis.

Shenton, M. (2013, September 10). The YouTube effect on live entertainment. The Stage. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from http://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/shenton/2013/09/youtube-effect-live-entertainment/

This is an editorial article but it hits many of the key points I want to explore. It talks about the effect of a seemingly bottomless source of free video on the artists? The author believes it is a good thing because it can help build a fan base if the video goes viral. In theory, it makes the business more competitive. Lots of people in the industry have an opinion on this topic. It may be necessary to include a few of these types of articles to show that people are talking about it.

Turrill, D. (2014). Shifts in viewing: The cross-platform report (pp. 1-24, Rep.). The Nielsen Company.

This is a report of various metrics regarding all kinds of media. It shows that TV viewership is declining slightly and the use of smartphones and other devices is climbing rapidly. Despite the decline in TV viewership it is still by far the most watched medium, and overall, the media market is larger than ever. It also contains demographic information which could be useful when constructing my final thesis.

Reading Response #3 – More Tech-Knowledge

Reading Responses

This week’s reading response is an introspective look at the current educational system. Apparently it can be improved. Both Ayers and Ripley point out how fast people are learning new things in modern society. Although there is a generational difference between when these two essays were written, they both recognize the elitist flaw that exists in the academic world and how technology affects our quest for enlightenment.  They share a common goal to teach people from all walks of life.

S. Dillon Ripley, former Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, saw the television as an important new technology akin to knowledge that could be gained by experiencing an object first hand at a museum. In the introduction to Knowledge among Men (1966) his strong beliefs become clear: “It is paradoxical that most people would rather read about objects than study them directly”, he writes (p. 8). Though he understands and explains why most of academia built on literacy, he believes that it is important for everyone to experience the joy of learning and that personal intelligence and knowledge are independent of literacy.

Professor Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond criticizes the higher education system for not adapting its teaching methods more quickly to utilize the benefits of the Internet in his article, “Does digital scholarship have a future?” (2013). He acknowledges that big changes have happened. People now take for granted things that did not exist 20 years ago. “Everyone assumes everyone else is on e-mail, is adept with digital library resources, and is electronically connected to professional organizations”, Ayers writes, “Yet the foundation of academic life—the scholarship on which everything else is built—remains surprisingly unaltered”. So by and large, the changes to the academic system have only been superficial. But the mood of his paper is optimistic. He sees technology as an untapped resource, one that reaches much farther than any classroom or institution.

Both authors recognize why the tenets of academia have changed very little despite huge strides in technology and communication. Breakthrough ideas should still be built on the works of others and proper credit must be given. Ripley’s approach was to create an institution that allowed people to see things for themselves and draw their own conclusions, sort of a way around secondary sources. For him, indiscriminate dispersal of knowledge was a way of heightening the consciousness of humankind. A generation later, people are still fighting the good fight. Proper accreditation and sound fundamentals can be maintained and improved through the utilization of technology. Dr. Ayers is optimistic that a new form of education is on the horizon, one that we can all benefit from and contribute into, that will far exceed any monographic work.

The common thread in both articles is the desire to reach and educate and learn from as many people as possible.  It is a noble cause that we should all take part in.

References

Ayers, E. (2013). Does digital scholarship have a future. Educause Review Online. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/does-digital-scholarship-have-future

Ripley, S. D. (1966). [Introduction]. In Knowledge among men(pp. 7-12). Simon and Schuster. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from [Blackboard]

Reading Response #2 – Paper or Plastic?

Reading Responses

This weeks topic of discussion is paper vs the ebook. The general consensus is that while ebooks have many advantages, traditional paper books still seem to work better for longer texts that require deep concentration. But, studies have yielded mixed results. For this week’s assignment, we’ll be looking at how Brandon Keim and Ferris Jabr discuss this timely topic. The main differences are subtle variances in the way each author presents the information.

Keim begins his argument with an attention grabbing quote. “Paper books were supposed to be dead by now”, is the very first sentence of his essay for Wired magazine entitled “Why the Smart Reading of the Future may be … Paper”. Keim takes his readers through the discussion just like a tour guide as he brings up the usual points in a discussion about technology: Devices are distracting, old people like paper, digital natives might not, etc. And like many tours, he rushes through a lot of information and doesn’t stop at any one point for very long. Nevertheless, the facts appear truthful because his article is a veritable minefield of hyperlinks meant to link the reader to the source information. Unfortunately, the links often fail because of those greedy academic journals stop you midway to pay the toll for access. I can not fault the author for things out of his control.

Ferris Jabr writes a comprehensive explanation of the issue at hand in the article “Why the Brain Prefers Paper” for Scientific American. I like how he explained how we learn the landscape of books. I have absolutely scanned back through a book and remembered where something was just as he said. I could remember which side of the book it was on and approximately where it was on the page. I had never thought of it that way but it makes perfect sense. Another interesting point was when he explained the difference in brain activity between children who typed and children who physically wrote.

Both authors agree that digital devices should not be dismissed because they can do so many things that paper books can not do. Keim’s article listed more opposing viewpoints and I have to believe there was a little inherent slant towards electronica from an author for Wired magazine. I suppose it is just preference but I enjoyed Jabr’s article more because he explained all of the points thoroughly with real examples that resonated with me. But both authors did a fair job explaining this tenuous topic. The overarching pattern is that opinions seem to change as the technology changes. As it improves, we get a little more used to it and we change too. With no definitive answer, the decision as to which medium is better to read from continues to be a matter of preference, utility and weighing of options.

 

References

Jabr, F. (2013, November). Why the brain prefers paper. Scientific American,309(5), 48-53. Retrieved September 7, 2014.

Keim, B. (2014, May 1). Why the smart reading device of the future may be … Paper. Wired. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from http://www.wired.com/2014/05/reading-on-screen-versus-paper/