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.

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