Lima’s book is an absolutely new experience for me; even though I took a class in critical mapping last semester and we did cover unique, weird, and radical maps, somehow the scope was a lot more restricted than in Lima’s book. This book is eye-opening in the sense that it makes one think about data, not just in the confined context of the research, but more about its abundance in the mundane life. Yes, data is everywhere, we are data and we produce data every single nanosecond, but, maybe to preserve our sanity, we try to categorize and evaluate it depending on our research question. Approaching all data as equally important is made possible thanks to the new technology and developing tools to work with it, so that we can explore what is really there, rather than unconsciously collect only the part of the data that supports our claims is fascinating. The words that jumped at me in the last chapter were “diversity,” “multiplicity” and “the future of visualization.” There is no need for controlled use of the information. “Citizen science,” a concept that enables every citizen to become part of the solutions to the problems in his neighborhood or community, is as optimistic as it is far removed from reality. I tried to take pictures of the inside of the GC building last semester so that I could build a map for my class and I was told point blank that I wasn’t allowed to, unless I had permission from the department. Apparently, not all spaces are free to film or take pictures of and I would imagine that there are valid reasons why we want to control access to certain kinds of information; some of those reasons could be for security, privacy, and you also want to make sure that there is an ethical consideration in the use of that information. Information can be manipulated for selfish reasons, either by particular individuals to further their agenda, or by governments or agencies to further their interests. I could appreciate the optimism with which the possibilities of access to limitless data are heralded, but I’m also skeptical, because there is a precedent of new, harmless inventions becoming lethal (nuclear power for one). Nonetheless, I am as excited as Yau is about the possibilities that access to data opens up, especially for neighborhoods. “Visualization is as good as the data that creates it, and if there is no data, there is nothing to analyze—no new understanding of the world.” It’s important to develop tools to help map the data, but it’s equally important to find ways to facilitate data gathering. Crowdsourcing data is so helpful, especially when it comes to covering a large area or a number of communities. It’s probably better to rely on the members of the community to do the data gathering because they will know better where to look and what to watch out for, besides the fact that they are invested in the idea that it’s for the improvement of their own community.
MALS 78100: Digital Humanities in Research and Teaching