Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Big Data and danah boyd at #alaac15

Posted by lpearle on 8 July 2015

danah boyd’s research and work has been fascinating to follow – this was less “It’s Complicated” and more “it’s problematic” (if you’re an ALA member, the presentation will probably be posted here). This marks a shift from watching how teens use social media towards the idea of big data (and metadata) as a whole; essentially, she takes issue with the idea that big data collection can somehow solve all of life’s questions – it can’t because tech is not neutral, it takes on the bias of the creators/manipulators.  She then went on to talk about three things:

Privacy

  • social media is a relief valve (boyd blames helicopter parents who give their children no down or alone time to just hang with friends – my problem with that is that these parents are my age, and we had plenty of this time and we managed to survive!)
  • as a result, public spaces are now networked online (check out Youth Radio)
  • privacy no longer means “control of information”  – it means “control of social situation” (agency is important); context is important and learned (another way to think about it is “code shifting“)
    • the skills to interpret context and how to navigate online social dynamics are emerging – adults and teens need to learn them
    • the big challenge is that real life requires constant code shifting, but online is soooooo different (esp. for teens) – check out the social stenography post danah did in 2010

Making Meaning of Data

  • some teens have learned to put random brand names into their email posts (esp. gmail) to provoke those brand ads that accompany “free” email
  • the lesson? who interprets, collects and provides data matters

Just because it’s a machine doesn’t mean there are no politics involved: there are usually more!

Networked Data

  • who has control? our usual models break down online (23andme gives your consent now and in the future for you and your family; LAPD’s “spit and acquit” program)
  • we now live in a world of predictions that can be used to discriminate (“legal” is another issue) and raises questions about fairness (equality, equity and economic)

So, where does Librarianship fit into all this?

  • ALA’s Core Values take these things into account
  • question license agreements, hours of access, technology equity – push for open access, push back against information lock-up
  • there’s a new literacy: data literacy – we need to educate our users about this

we tell students that Wikipedia is BAD, but why do we also say that Google is GOOD?

  • question everything: push levels of thinking, teach students to do this so they can see bias and better determine who to trust online
  • social responsibility: more of us (librarians) need to speak up!
  • privacy: we need to talk more and teach more about the cultural consequences of Big Data (the NSA is the tip of the iceberg)

There are three types of data collection (for more about some of this, see my post about Debbie and Kristin’s program at #alaac13:

  1. data by choice (eg., Fitbit)
  2. data by coercion (the LAPD)
  3. data by circumstance (using Facebook)
  • why is ALA so afraid to be local? we do a great job of taking national (and international) positions, but local? rarely.

This documentary was not mentioned during ms. boyd’s talk, but I highly recommend watching/showing Terms and Conditions May Apply.  Scary, provocative and perhaps a catalyst for change.

 

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