Lit 80, Fall 2013
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Big data is just a tool

October 4th, 2013 | Posted by Xin Zhang in Uncategorized

We live in an age when digital devices is everywhere. We live with our computers, phones, cameras that all can convert the analog signals into digital signals. In this way massive data are produced everyday which seem to be messy but can be powerful by data mining. We call this big data.

Before the discussion of big data, we have to figure out what is data. Data do not equal information. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, Data are information that are readable to machines. Or in other words, data are collection of 0’s and 1’s that carry information. So books are not data until someone like Google digitalize them. With massive data that seem to be messy for human, the most important thing is how to make use of them. There are many projects such as Understanding Shakespeare, MoEML and Google ngram Viewer show effective ways to make use of big data by data mining and infographics.

But as for doing literature study with big data, there are some scholars like Jean-François Lyotard claim their radical idea that this will destroy the humanity behind literature. I understand their concerns but they are really overreacted. Big data is just a tool used for literature study that can gives us a different view of literature. We use big data but we do not deny the importance of human in literature study. We use Google ngram Viewer to do literature study or technically macroanalysis but that does not mean that our scholars all retire and let machines do everything. The human is always dominating the study of literature but with a modern and powerful tool to see hidden aspects that cannot be found without big data. So our scholars get a powerful tool rather than become slaves of machines.

SOURCES:

“Data.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/data>.

Understanding Shakespeare. <http://www.understanding-shakespeare.com/>

MoEML. MoEML. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/>.

Google Ngram Viewer. Computer software. Google Ngram Viewer. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <http://books.google.com/ngrams>.

“Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities |.” N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/literature-is-not-data-against-digital-humanities/>.

Jockers, Matthew L. “On Distant Reading and Macroanalysis.” Web log post.Matthew L Jockers. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <http://www.matthewjockers.net/2011/07/01/on-distant-reading-and-macroanalysis/>.

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