Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Measurement of All Things

Evgeny Morozov:

In his idiosyncratic way, Nietzsche offered a piercing critique of information reductionism, the naïve belief so popular with the Silicon Valley crowd that more information is always better. That one can collect and muster more measurements of a given phenomenon, Nietzsche reasoned, does not imply progress, for there may be other, better ways of talking about that phenomenon that do not easily lend themselves to quantitative measurements.

...Most perceptively, Nietzsche understood that quantifiable information might be nothing but low-hanging fruit that is easy to pick but often thwarts more ambitious, more sustained efforts at understanding.

...Attempts at quantification are quite often attempts at simplification — and simplification is anything but apolitical, especially when competing interpretations of a problem are discarded in favor of something measurable and manageable.

As if on cue, it's apparently that time of year again. And that's the lesson poor Lynn Shepherd needs to learn: universalize, don't personalize. Express your jealous grievances in the impersonal, neutral idiom of quantification. People who obsess over the VIDA count are effectively saying that women, as a group, aren't getting enough of the literary spotlight, so men, as a group, should step aside or be nudged aside by the gatekeepers at prominent literary outlets. Shepherd, though, made it personal, saying that she was going to get less attention because of people like J.K Rowling infringing on "her" turf, so Rowling should fuck off back to "children's fiction". Mmm, mmm, mmm. See the difference? Same sentiment, but the latter just sounds catty and nasty. Gotta learn to finesse that P.R.