Digital humanities and the allure of the absurd

Over at MediaCommons, I contributed an answer to a survey on the intersections of digital humanities and media studies. I’m reposting it here:

Multiple stones suspended in a gallery by wire
CC BY NC ND-licensed photo “stones 2” by Flickr user speedoflight_speedoflight. Source

It is, of course, absurd to claim you can capture the richness of human experience in machine-readable data. Human lives are quicksilver, protean, bent and pulled in a thousand different directions. We think and feel, interpret and surmise, hold contradictory notions, revel in paradox. It’s ridiculous to think that a machine, which thinks in binary, can replicate these shades of gray.

And yet. Media scholars know better than anyone that it is equally absurd to attempt to capture human experience in a photographic narrative. Because we understand the photographic image — its trickery, its inherent limitations, the world beyond its frame — we understand how essentially false is any work’s claim to represent “reality” in all its plenitude and contingency. To argue that a work of media is fully representative is to be unforgivably naïve; we know that every work is constructed, no matter how transparent it appears. Continue reading “Digital humanities and the allure of the absurd”