Data and Whitman

Rigidity itself is not a destroyer of creativity. Rigidity enforced as guidelines of creativity destroy imaginativeness. There’s a not so subtle difference. Comparing databases to the writing of Walt Whitman in the reading Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives by Ed Folsom helped me to understand the idea of databases as a category, not rigid in design, rather, fluid and able to be edited and furthered as time goes by and definitions change with context.

I believed, until this reading that databases were a bit like libraries. Sectioned off by genre, topic, etc, in shelves, albeit digital shelves. This idea, as I soon found out, is wrong. Databases are more like a spider web, where there’s a central idea and all forms and variations of such an idea spiral out and intertwine regardless of genre.

This description is not entirely true either, although it paints the picture clearest for me in my head. Databases are not narratives, and this makes sense. As more and more are able to access these digital archives, the narrative may read differently to each person. This, therefore creates an indefinable genre.

Look at it this way. Wikipedia is an online database. None of this information is directly related, but within one article there may be links to several other articles. It’s a fleury of information to handle, but like a spiderweb, each strand connects with at least one other. This does not mean every strand is connected directly, but each strand is connected by another strand or several others.

Wikipedia is different from encyclopedias in that it’s not bound by covers and publication dates every few years. Instead, Wikipedia is fluid in it’s ability to change. This has not always the best in the past, but as the guidelines for editing become stricter, there’s much more reliability in the database from users all over the globe.

How though, does this all relay back to the idea of metadata? Well, metadata is data about data. Metadata is a digital information system; a way of creating databases and online archives to be shared across geographic and other barriers.

This is all still a bit unclear to me. My questions are these: 1) How do we navigate this world of data about data? How are we sure that creativity and information are genuine? 2) How do we define what is similarity and dissimilarity when creating the world of metadata if there are no genres or strict outlines?

About Olivia Henley

Marine Sciences
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