A Philosophy of Data

Two days ago I wrote about ten blogs I think everyone could enjoy. Yesterday I whinged about the role of blogs in contemporary Christian discourse. Today, I briefly want to describe my attitude towards the bigger picture of how to handle all the things you could be reading and watching and listening to, but aren’t.

First things first, books are better than blogs, movies are better than tv and albums are better than YouTube videos. But everything is good.

Except, of course, everything isn’t good.

We are drowning in data. The internet has accelerated a process that already went rabid with 24 hour news. Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe has offered us a most excellent insight into how “news” is a packaged product. In Scroobius Pip’s great song Death of the Journalist he cites a historic event from the relatively recent past that seems mythic to us:

Good Friday, April 18th, 1930
BBC radio news showed rare maturity
The news reporter said something that these days they wouldn’t say
‘Good evening, There is no news today’

So here is my philosophy of data: like everything else in this material world, more is not better. I guard my attention so that it is directed towards things that are enjoyable. My twitter feed is loaded with comedians. My RSS feeds are loaded with cartoons and animated gifs. I try not to read national newspapers. I avoid headlines. I never watch the news on telly. I do not know what is happening in American politics. I have only a vague awareness of this week’s newspaper front pages in Ireland. I don’t even read Broadsheet anymore, since it was annoying me. If you did a test on the current conversations happening, I would flounder.

The reason I have embraced intentional ignorance is that engaging with data at its source is an invitation to permanent ignorance. When we track news, we track data at its most manipulated. My intentional ignorance is just an ignorance of news as it happens. If the news matters, it will persist so that I can pick it up off the shelf in six weeks, more stable and mature, richer in data, all the crud of click-bait burned off. By waiting 2 months, I can often find a 10,000 long-read piece with serious context and detail and nuance. It not only avoids the blood pressure-raising nonsense of the news cycle, but it encourages the kind of journalism that at least nods towards discernment. So if I can dare to use such preposterously pretentious language, my philosophy of data is that fresher is mankier. Old news is better. My most visited webpage is football.guardian.co.uk because I find that as I get older, the things that don’t matter are the things I care about.

Your Correspondent, Humbling computational arrogance since 2012