Efficiency vs Accuracy

In our discussion on Monday, we talked about the classification of clothes in a store like Walmart, and how the women’s/men’s sections may marginalize some shoppers. We asked: for a business like Walmart, is it more important to optimize the efficiency of shopping for most of your customers, or is it more important (and could it be more profitable) to provide equal, neutral categories that include all shoppers. We decided that it might be hard to de-categorize clothing sections of Walmart because it would reduce the ease and experience of shopping for the vast majority of customers.

However, when we consider the categorization of indigenous ontologies, we must adopt a new mode of thinking. The argument is the same: should we preserve inaccurate headlines that say “American Indian” because a majority of the population is likely to understand this term which makes it efficient? Or, should we strip down the existing system of tag lines and put effort toward improving the contextual accuracy of the categorization of indigenous information?

First, I think that we have to consider the context and the gravity of influence of the rhetoric in either situation. When Walmart cuts corners with its metadata, they’ve weighed the fact that this metadata’s rhetoric is not all that significant, and they take a risk in hopes of improved efficiency. However, when historical archives cut corners with their metadata to improve efficiency of research, they rewrite history. The rhetoric associated with the archival metadata makes a significant argument. The article, Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies, discusses how subjugating the Native Americans to a historical tag line ignores the current existence of these people. Also, they talk about how mediated titles rewrite a history of trauma, exploitation and genocide.  Therefore, in the case of indigenous information pieces, efficiency does not trump accuracy.

One would hope that the information professionals will continue to improve their information systems, eventually reconciling efficiency and accuracy. It is one of the dangers of the digitized world that we will allow metadata to warp the histories of the marginalized. Therefore, in the case of the Native Americans, ” we should challenge ourselves to create systems that encourage flows of indigenous knowledge for and within indigenous communities” (700). Accuracy comes first.

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2 Responses to Efficiency vs Accuracy

  1. Olivia Henley says:

    It’s curious to think about the fact that when we broaden categories and cut corners, we sort of cut out parts of history. Of course, it will be hard to re-categorize for accuracy rather than simply efficiency. So then we’ll do what’s hard. Right? Well, the idea is romantic in that we’d finally be giving the categories their ‘dues’ so to speak.

    It’s a common coinage to call Native Americans, ‘Indians’ when in fact, not long after Chris Columbus mislabeled these people, we knew they weren’t ‘Indians.’ They’re natives from the Americas, hence Native Americans. Why then, is it so hard to make this shift from a misunderstanding that was discovered back in the 1490s to the truth that we’ve known since? It was written down. Unfortunately, this task of re-categorizing would be colossally monumental in terms of the shift.

    When do we make the decision to do what’s hard though? When does right finally outweigh passivity and inattentiveness?

  2. Krista Harder says:

    Annie is right; when organizing and classifying information, we constantly face the battle between efficiency and accuracy. As Livy points out in her comment, even a simple change in the language we use to label a group of people can be difficult to implement. Our Western approach is so fundamentally implanted within our brains that we don’t even realize that we’re actively affecting people by the way we classify and organize them and information about them. We take systems such as libraries and archives for granted. We emphasize the written word as the pinnacle of truth and hardly stop to consider other valuable ways that information can be presented and remembered. We need to rethink the way that we think about information, because our Western way of classification is not the only way. However, it’s tough enough to change people’s thoughts, let alone to change the way in which they think.

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