How Beneficial is Distant Reading

Distant reading: it’s something that I’m sure we have all done.  Quiz on an assigned reading?  Let’s speed read it.  Want to refresh your knowledge of a given subject?  Let’s glance over it.  Distant reading is something that we likely do every day.  But how is there any merit to it whatsoever?

Close reading is obviously a much better tool to use.  In class on Thursday, I exemplified how close reading can more accurately determine context when text mining.  A distant read of the data might show the context is cuisine.  While cuisine could definitely play a role, it is the way that the context of the joke is actually delivered.  A close read is able to ascertain that the true context of the joke is the economy.  While the distant read did not reveal what the close read did, does that mean that its use is without merit and, thus, a waste of time?

I would suggest that this is not the case.  In jokes, it is important to understand how the comedian delivers the joke.  In this case, he ironically delivered the joke by disguising the true context with Chinese food.  The method he delivered the joke is not as important as the context, but if you understand both, you might be able to determine more info, such as if there are themes present in the way things initially look and how they really are.  This is definitely beneficial in many different ways.  Also, if you have a strong understanding of a subject, you might be able to do a more distant read than a close read on a paper or project.  But, it is extremely important to not only do distant reads, but close reads.

In other words, my main point is this: distant reading can be very beneficial when used in conjunction with close reading.  With that being said, in academia and research I do not think that distant reading is good.  Research takes time.  You cannot adequately give the subject justice by working on it for only 5 hours.  It takes a lot more time than this.  In fact, it might cause your field to be less-respected.  As it was said in class, any conclusions that comes out of distant reading is by chance and “b.s.”  As hard as this might be for students, this is something important to hear.  You can’t do your work justice by going “half-a****” on it.  Work hard on the project and give it the amount of time that it actually needs.

Building Smart Rooms and Not The End of Culture

The Internet represents the ascension of yahoos, a victory lap for plagiarists, the end of culture, the beginning of the dark ages inhabited by glassy-eyed chronic masturbators who judge truth by the number of thumbs up, wisdom by the number of views, and knowledge by whatever is most fun to believe … Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms – that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider.

This is one of the first things that Weinberger mentions in his book Too Big To Know.  This statement really captivated me because of the total truth behind it. Think about Wikipedia. While it can be an incredibly accurate and up-to-date resource, other times, it can be hijacked by some “yahoos.” Some pleasure in misguiding others just as some work for self-gain.

With the creation of the World Wide Web, we have an incredible tool at our disposal. What used to take days or months to spread around the world can now be distributed in a few seconds.  This includes both valuable information and misinformation. For example, just a few weeks ago, the rumor that Mike Stoops would be leaving OU for Louisiana State flooded social media. One person was behind this (granted, he was just doing his job and really has no liability). One post, one tweet, or one article can spread like wildfire in today’s society.

Many might wonder what good the Internet does when situations like this occur. While things can spread like wildfire, normally there is one thing that can always be done: checking other sources. With how huge the web and social media is in our day in time, a major event will likely be covered from every side. If there is only one source, you might be able to conclude that that news is baseless, a myth, or a total lie. If the idea is from multiple places, you could conclude that there is a basis to it.

The moral of the story here is this: the Internet can be either good or bad; it is up to the user which one it is.