Latour on traceability/massive data
Fabien dug out an interesting paper by Bruno Latour about the implications of digital traces entitled "Beware your imagination leaves digital traces. The article, published in Times Higher Literary Supplement (6th April 2007) addresses the increasing traceability and how it will open up new inquiries by social sciences
"It is as if the inner workings of private worlds have been pried open because their inputs and outputs have become thoroughly traceable. (...) Before digitalisation, social psychologists used very vague words such as “rumours”, “influences”, “fads”, “fashions” or even “contexts” to describe the complex ecology of our minds. But today it just happens that a character from a game can be followed through the IP numbers of the computers from which they are clicked or from the stream of news in which they are commented upon, all the way from the designers who draw them to the blogs where their adventures are exchanged. (...) The ancient divide between the social on the one hand and the psychological on the other was largely an artefact of an asymmetry between the traceability of various types of carriers (...) today the data bank of Amazon.com has simultaneous access to my most subtle preferences as well as to my Visa card. As soon as I purchase on the web, I erase the difference between the social, the economic and the psychological, just because of the range of traces I leave behind. (...) The consequences for the social sciences will be enormous: they can finally have access to masses of data that are of the same order of magnitude as that of their older sisters, the natural sciences. But my view is that “social” has probably become as obsolete as “natural”: what is common to both is a sort of new epidemiology that was anticipated, a century ago, by the sociologist Gabriel Tarde and that has now, at last, the empirical means of its scientific ambition."
Why do I blog this? I quite like the holistic perspective Latour describes here and how tools lead to a situation in which researchers need to go beyond reductionism. And pointing out Tarde is also relevant.