Saturday, March 17, 2007

The World Is More Than 0's and 1's

In Database, the author overly criticizes our world that has become database-oriented as a result of computerization. He claims that due to the database, the narrative aspects of the world have disappeared. He supports his argument by discussing the information collecting process, the structure of video games, and the database in cinema. Although some of his claims seem to be reasonable, I disagree with many of the author’s accusations against our culture following computerization. After reading the whole chapter, I found myself getting frustrated with what the author had to say about the modern world and its trends.

The author’s belief that our world lacks narrations and that we are only left with data is rather extreme and invalid. He states that all the information that we obtain in the modern world “are collections of individual items, with every item possessing the same significance as any other” (218). This claim devalues our intelligence and the education system. We do not simply accept the information that we learn without giving a different significance to each item. Also, whether these items are of the same value or not depends on different individuals. We are not machines. We are humans with different traits, therefore, we all think and judge things differently unlike a computer’s data system. If we just gave the same significance to all information we gain, we wouldn’t be attending this university, taking this class, and learning how to closely analyze to share our different ideas. Even with a computerized society, the database won’t make anything the same nor meaningless, given all of mankind does not become robots.

The author also asserts that “the world appears to us as an endless and unstructured collection of images, texts, and other data records, it is only appropriate that we will be moved to model it as a database” (219). This statement is weak and absurd. This society has always been structured since the beginning of civilization. Even animals have their own systems of hierarchy, hunting techniques, seasons for mating, etc. It is derived from nature that this world will be structured some way or another, even with the rapid flow of excessive information.

The author believes that due to the algorithm working as a form of database in videogames, the users will try to “build a mental model of the computer model” (233). The human brain is very different from a computer brain; it is unpredictable, flexible, and always changing. The human brain is always able to accept more information, store that information, and have emotions and form opinions about that information. The computer brain cannot do these things. It is a machine brain; you will always get the same result. The human brain will always be superior to the most advanced computer brain, therefore, humans won’t try to build their brain to be like that of a computer. Instead, humans use these consistent and predictable tools to improve their lives rather than trying to turn into them. Furthermore, the author seems to forget that it is the humans who created the computers. By presenting such comments, the author is degrading the power of humans and their ingenuity.

When discussing the difference between database and narrative, the author expresses his idea: “As a cultural form, the database represents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (event). Therefore, database and narrative are natural enemies” (225). I don’t believe that database and narrative are enemies, instead, they work together as they always have. A database creates narrative and narrative creates a database. Look at fairytales for example and let’s not forget that fairytales existed way before the computer was born. Fairytales are clearly narratives; they all tell stories in a linear form. However, they all have lists of the things that they must have in order to be categorized as fairytales. There is always that “once upon a time … happily ever after,” good vs. evil, unfortunate princess and the prince charming, magic, etc. These are the lists (database) of the fairytales (narrative). This symbiotic relationship between database and narrative has always existed in human history.

Lastly, the author talks about cinema’s quality of being the only narrative that can also contain a database at the same time. First of all, this sole idea contradicts what he has been talking about the whole time. In the majority of the chapter, he claimed that the database and narrative cannot exist together. However, in this section, he states that this mutual existence is possible in films. He says that almost all fictional films are narratives with “the linear pursuit – one story at a time told chronologically—is the standard format of cinema” (237). Then he praises Man with a Movie Camera, the film most famous for not having a linear narrative, by mentioning its unique characteristics of conveying database with narrative. I agree that Man with a Movie Camera definitely carries some kind of narratives despite its atypical film editing. However, the author clearly contradicts himself by claiming that most films have a chronological narrative while saluting Man with a Movie Camera for having a narrative with no narrative. Some might argue that Man with a Movie Camera is different since it is a documentary, not a fictional film. But look at the recent film, Babel, by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It is a fictional film with 4 different databases. It has a list of 4 completely different stories that make up one big narrative connecting them all together. For these reasons, I absolutely disagree with the author’s main argument. If he wants to convince me, he needs to provide more compelling evidence that will invalidate my counter-arguments to his own.



Blogger Sean Carr said...

Silbi, good quotes from the reading. When I read those I had to start laughing. If databases were "collections of individual items, with every item possessing the same significance as any other" then they would be extremely dumb and not nearly as popular as they are. For one thing, if databases didn't organize data and treat items differently they would be really slow.

I also laughed when reading the quote about how we will be moved to model our world as a database in order to give it structure. This really makes me wonder why people are investing billions in research to make databases able to handle unstructured data if the author says that they already can do it. If anything databases and database research is trying to be more like the human brain and learn to process unstructured collections of data in interesting ways.

I think my favorite absurd quote that you brought up though was: "the database represents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order this list." Sorting and ordering data is one of the main functions of databases in the world. Not only can users get data sorted in whatever way they want but the database itself sorts the data in multiple ways internally so that it can be fast and have a better idea how to optimize based on what query it gets and what data it currently holds.

I would like to know this author's background because for writing an article about databases he sure doesn't know what they are and how they work. Not only did he mess that part up but Silbi pointed out how his claims about people/society were kind of absurd too.

3/19/2007 12:10 AM  

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