Teresa Numerico (Università di Roma 3)
This talk aims at unmasking the idea of data as conceived in most of the literature on Big Data, as well as in some of distant reading practices. This idea is based on the view that data, particularly if it is digitally represented, keeps its purity and is not contaminated by any kind of subjective interpretation, while its unique interpretation is that provided by the algorithmic interrogation of the data. I will discuss the issue in relation to the original genealogy of digital data, preserved in computer memory. According to Joseph Licklider – originator of the concept of the ‘fund of knowledge’ as a feasible digital project – the flow of data contained in an automatically accessible repository does not exhibit any special characteristic and does not substantially differ from the object of its representation. I will argue, instead, that data exists only according to a chosen interpretation and that it is accessible only through an implicit acceptance of its built-in meaning – that is, a meaning that depends on the fetishization of quantification or of another general model in which we want to capture it. The final part of the paper suggests some new issues that need to be addressed in the new agenda of the critical digital humanities.