Humans Being Data



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Sometimes I like to muse on Digital Humanities as the marriage of the mind and heart. ‘Digital’ representing the logical, binary, data orientated mind and ‘humanities’ representing the living, non-tangible essence of the heart.

In this passion fueled article I felt the burning invitation of Miriam Posner to all digital humanists to shift into exploring the living, non-tangible space, calling on our ingenuity to re-imagine data, possibly, in my own interpretation, – as ‘living’ data.

I say ‘our’ as I too am a digital humanist, a digital humanist who shares Posners drive towards foundational change. “It would require dismantling and rebuilding much of the organizing logic, like the data models or databases, that underlies most our work.” For me, Posner’s fiery words bring Einstein’s logic to mind.

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”

What Posner is calling for in my opinion is a radical shift in how we view data. The writing displayed on the image of ‘The Knotted line’, which looks deeply at the structures of injustice and inequality in the United States, sums it up beautifully.

“When has a decision been made about your life without your input or voice?”

“When have you made a decision about another person’s life without their input?”

This, in my opinion is happening consistently everyday as each individual in society morphs into some form of metadata. Another statistic, another piece of information, data, that can be used to analyze, study, inform this, that or the other.

What I feel is missing in the current interpretation of data is ‘the living essence’ of this data, the beauty, the mystery, the soul. I feel Posner holds a key to the answer she is questioning in her article when she writes about the Aboriginal Australian map.

This map immediately transports us from the flattened world of data structures into a three dimensional network of organized, meaningful information. As is shared in Posners article, this knowledge network is living in essence, holding the wisdom of and connection with the ancestors in dreamtime. A connection that must be actively maintained through activity, singing, dancing and painting.

Unlike the current maps us westerners are accustomed to, these dhulaŋ (maps) – seem to be not just maps of the landscapes, but also maps of how to live in harmony with nature, maintaining the beauty passed down by the ancestors. They teach of morals and values such as respect and hidden meaning of transcendental worlds.

“Children can learn to have respect for the wäŋa in this way and the wäyin (game animals) that live there, and learn to mind it properly. If they don’t do that it will take its revenge. Gulumbu Yunupiŋu, 1987”

These indigenous maps move us from disconnected data towards a living presence that calls for beauty, admiration, respect and awe. We deeply engage with the information as we connect with it on many levels, not just something to be analyzed by the mind – but something to be felt and engaged with by the heart – a compass, a map for living and engaging with this world. “Thus the landscape, knowledge, story, song, graphic representation and social relations all mutually interact, forming one cohesive knowledge network.”

I believe for us digital humanists to begin changing how we view, represent, shape, interact and recreate data we need to engage with it on a fundamentally different level. We need to invite the living presence of the data to inform us. We may look towards living system theorists for inspiration, chaos and complexity perhaps. Or towards ancient wisdom holders such as the aboriginal community mentioned in Posners article. Or we could come even closer to home and explore the living intelligence of our own heart – the space that many of the indigenous wisdom elders believe connects us all. I do not have the answers but I feel these ‘spaces’ may offer some insight into how we may re-imagine and re-create the categories and data that structure and represent people’s lives.

“So maybe this is the thrill we can work toward — the thrill in capturing people’s lived experience in radical ways, ways that are productive and generative and probably angry, too.”

Yes, angry, because anger is capturing the living emotion. Lets make data angry, lets make it joyful, ecstatic, lets as digital humanists aspire towards representing the true nature of data – LIFE!

Creative Commons License by Ciara Josephine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at .

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