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A Personal Journey Towards Datameaningfulness Rachel Lovinger 18 September 2008 Photo by Eugene Tan compass,  travel, journey, wayfinding
Photo by Rachel Lovinger eric miller,  w3c, semantic web, work, razorfish
There were  NO WEBSITES  when I was in  4th grade.
Photo by Rachel Lovinger london, txt msg, mobile, street, taxi, crossing
Gen X: Heralds Of  The Digital Age
Photo from personal collection dad, moms, hipipies, binghamton, lake, table
Photo ©Robert Altman hipipies, antiwar demonstration, america
Big Idea Form Your Own Opinions
Photos by rebelniko ~the original~, Thijs van Exel, Leif K-Brooks, Patrick Q melancholy rose, Wilhelm Joys Andersen, Daniel R. Blume, Jorge Ferrer, Stephen Michael Barnett  & Michael Pereckas
Photo by Adrian Black couch potato, sleeping, TV remote, socks
The Early Years Growing Up On The Verge Of The Information Age Photo from personal collection baby, me, rachel, binghamton, blanket
Harness Racing by Craig Stephen, others from personal collection racetrack, harness racing, horses, mom, harpur college, me, kira, woods, picnic
Photo from personal collection dad, baby, vest, shoe, chair, pink pajamas
Photo from personal collection mom, NYC, rockefeller center,  summer
Photo from Museu Virtual de Informatica mainfraime, UNIVAC 90/30, computer history
“Modern data processing began with the inventions of American engineer, Herman Hollerith. [His] great breakthrough was his use of electricity to read, count, and sort punched cards.” - The Birth of Data Processing, Library of Congress Photo by Miranda punch card, computer, data
Punch cards were  my Internet.
Photo from personal collection me, stairs, rachel, hat, boa, really rosie
Drawing by M.C. Escher perspective, building, impossible
Photo from personal collection me, room, toys, 80s, electronics kit, rachel
Photo from personal collection me, rachel, camera, skirt, sunny day, fence
Photo by Rachel Lovinger mom, empire state building, NYC, 70s
Photo from personal collection 9th birthday, me, rachel, friends, david
Photo from personal collection 9th birthday, me ,rachel, friends, tristan
Photo by Wonder14 tristantaorino, award, porn director, feminist
Photo from personal collection me ,james, rachel, 80s, cars, trees, nerds
Hello, Rachel, I hope you enjoy your ice cream._
Photo by Rachel Lovinger terry, chappaqua, 80s, photo class, library
Photos by Rachel Lovinger proofsheet, 80s, photo class, kids
The Kid with Big Feet By Rachel Lovinger Assignment for On Creating Spring 1988 Text and photos by Rachel Lovinger creative writing, photography, high school
A poem found in an advice column Dear Ann Landers, I know a man Whose wife Must really love you To send you  So much suffering The parents Have been mourning Ever since  - Rockland, Ill Dear Rock: My mail Shock-proof Normally intelligent people (silence) Welcome response  In time of trouble
Heading to College People With Fully Formed Personalities And Interests But They Know Nothing. Photo from personal collection college, rachel, binghamton, dorm, me
There Was Still  No World Wide Web
Photo by Adamantios VT220, terminal, computer, UNIX/VMS
Photo by Rachel Lovinger crappy boyfriend, cheater, college
Big Idea New Technology  Leads to New Ways  of Pursuing Sex
Photo by Jasmine Gartner me, college, rachel, binghamton, film, bike
Still from Video by Rachel Lovinger college, monalisa, duchamp, eamon, video
Big Idea Post-Modernism
Literature Photo by Evan books, stack, literature, black & white
Comparative Literature Straightjacket by Ligadier Truffaut madness, crazy, asylum, straight jacket
Big Idea Great Stories & Ideas Transcend Medium
Mathematics Photo by Peter Renshaw math, blackboard, equations, chalk
Set Theory
Still from Straw Dogs, 1971 dustinhoffman, sampeckinpah, violence
Big Idea Underlying Logic
History Photo by Jack Downey, courtesy of The Commons france, wwii, tanks, crowd, military, arc de triomphe
Psychohistory
Big Idea Subtext
Philosophy
Esoteric Philosophy Moon by Kevin, Photo of pagans by Jessica Rabbit aleistarcrowley, tarot, wicca symbols, moon, pagans
Big Idea VS
Photo by Rachel Lovinger discordians, poster, unicorns, chaos, room
Big Idea The Transformative Power of  Words & Images
Prague
Paris
Photo © Charles Peterson nirvana, kurtcobain, grunge, drums, music
Big Idea Obsession With  Surfaces
Photo by Marco Tedaldi cello, bow, pink, movement, hand
Nam June Paik claimed to have invented the phrase “Electronic Superhighway” in 1974 TV Cello by Nam June Paik cello, video, experimental, charlotte moorman, 1971
Big Idea Obsession With  Surfaces  Process
Photo by firutin static, white noise, tv, black & white
Photo by EminSinanyan white noise, woman, art, beauty
If we can’t totally make sense of the world,  we can make it ours  and find beauty in it.
Real Life This Is Not A Test. Or Is It? Photo by Rohanna Mertens new mexico, rachel, moon, me, window
Photo by Alex Heilner new mexico, rachel, sunrise, white sands
The Internet Existed,  But Most People Had  No Idea What It Was
Photo from personal collection rachel, new mexico, living room, boots, sign
Big Idea Community of  the Alienated
Big Idea DIY
The Digital Age Ready Or Not, Here It Comes! Photo by Oliver Ingrouille circuit board, art, digital, pink, grey, black
Finally: The Internet
Form Your Own Opinion… Democratization of Knowledge DiggGraphr – http://www.arpitonline.com/diggGraphr/
Obsession With Process… Transparency NNDB Mapper – http://www.nndb.com
Community of Alienated… Distributed Social Networks Many Eyes Visualization – http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/view/SvwWqGsOtha6yIE1YcPzG2-
Post-Modernism… Decentralized Authorship Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/
Order vs. Chaos…
DIY… User Generated Content Vimeo – http://www.vimeo.com/1892884
Transcend Medium… Means of Distribution Dr. Horrible – http://doctorhorrible.net/
Transformative Words & Images… Viral Media LOLcats – http://icanhascheezburger.com/
Underlying Logic… Content & Data Structure Bubbl.us– http://bubbl.us/
Subtext… Text Analysis Nielsen BuzzMetrics– http://www.nielsenbuzzmetrics.com/
Sex… Still Sex flickr – http://www.flickr.com
Thanks Internet! People are doing all kinds of strange and interesting things, and putting them online. Some things I needed and found online: Catalog Card Generator Newsweek article from 1992 Lots of Creative Common Photos
Creative Commons Photos Creative Commons – http://creativecommons.org/about/license/
Creative Commons Photos Creative Commons – http://creativecommons.org/about/license/
Contact Info Email: rachel.lovinger@gmail.com Blog:http://blog.rachellovinger.com Twitter: mirka23 This presentation is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

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Journey Towards Datameaningfulness

Editor's Notes

  1. This is a story about how the cultural history of my generation, along with my personal history, put me on the path to doing what I do today.My name is Rachel Lovinger, and I’m a Content Strategist. I spend most of my time thinking about how the content of a website is produced, structured, organized and categorized so that it can be found and used in the most optimal ways. Sometimes I say that I do this is because I can’t bear the idea that there’s content out there that someone wants but it can’t be found, sad & lonely and hidden from view. I call this orphaned content. But of course there’s a lot more to it than that. (test)
  2. Gen Xers got a reputation for being apathetic couch potatoes. While this may have been partly due to laziness (related to an expectation that anything and everything can, should and will come to us) I believe it was also a side effect of the substantial mental effort required to process the overwhelming amount of information inundating us on a daily basis. Ok, that’s the history lesson. Now, let me share some things from my life, and how I think they’re relevant.
  3. This is me. I was born in the early ’70s in a college town called Binghamton in a semi-rural, semi-industrial area of upstate New York.
  4. I split my early years hanging out at the college, hanging out on communes with my parents’ hippie friends, and going to the racetrack with my dad.
  5. Dad quickly realized this was not the way to provide for his daughter and he decided to supplement his income by becoming a journalist.
  6. Mom finished her degree in psychology and immediately went to work with computers.
  7. In 1978 My mother worked as a Systems Analyst for a computer company called UNIVAC. They sold large mainframe computers, and she would go to client sites to provide training and support.
  8. The data for these machines was stored on stacks and stacks of little cardboard punch cards, like these. My mom would bring old cards home and I would play with them, draw on them, whatever. I don't know why, but they were all over the place so I played with them.Perhaps this is where my malleable little child mind was shaped for a lifelong fascination with data, because, apparently, the invention of punchcards in 1881 was \"The Birth of Modern Data Processing.\"
  9. Punch cards were my Internet.
  10. I grew up generally being pretty creative and odd. I’m pretty sure this outfit and pose was inspired by a beloved childhood character called Really Rosie, created by Maurice Sendak.
  11. As I grew up I was fascinated by logic and word games. I loved authors like Lewis Carroll who play with words and use double meanings.
  12. Recently Eric Miller, who led the Semantic Web Initiative for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and is roughly the same age as me (I think), told me a story about working with 4th grade children on some web projects. One of the children asked him “What did your website look like when you were in 4th grade?”
  13. I loved visual puns, surrealism, and art which, the more you looked at it, the more you saw.
  14. One of my favorite toys was an electronics kit. When I got tired of playing with dolls, I would build things with transistors.
  15. I also enjoyed making things. I had my own camera at an early age.
  16. I took this photo of my mom when I was 7.
  17. I was surrounded by interesting people growing up. This is my 9th Birthday. The boy next to me was from a very artistic family – his dad was a composer, his mom made jewelry, and he’s now grown up to become a famous NY house DJ.
  18. This girl is the niece of famously reclusive author Thomas Pynchon.
  19. And she grew up to be Tristan Taorino: porn star, sex columnist, and award-winning porn-director.
  20. Here’s a boy I was friends with in middle school. We would write very simple computer text games in Basic. The program asks you a few questions and then uses your answers to fill in the blanks in a sentence.
  21. It was usually something silly like “Hello, Rachel, I hope you enjoy your Ice Cream.”
  22. In high school, along with all the typical classes, I studied photography.
  23. Let me point out that there were no websites when I was in 4th grade.
  24. My favorite class was called On Creating. This class was different from any I had taken before. All of our assignments were projects that involved using photographs and writing together to describe an event, a mood, a person.
  25. I loved telling stories with words and images. It was like learning a whole new language. So much more powerful than just words or just images. Sometimes we created our own photographs, sometimes we used photos taken by other students, sometimes we used photos that we found in magazines.
  26. Most of the time we wrote the words ourselves, but sometimes we started with a phrase from someone else, and once we had an assignment called \"found poetry\" where you create a poem by extracting words that are already written someplace - like in an advertisement, a catalog for plant seeds, or an advice column.
  27. Next I went off to college.I believe that we come to college with our personality and interests pretty much fully formed, but we don’t really know much of anything. College is the place where a person enters with all their childish notions and interests and hunger for knowledge, and finally learns real things about them.
  28. Just as a reminder, there still was no world wide web, not for another year or two.
  29. But we were starting to get networked on campus. Younger friends from high school tell me that I came home from my first semester at college and taught them what email was. I don’t remember this, but I believe it. Our school had a bitnet system and everyone had an address which you could use to send messages, or you could chat with other people who were online.
  30. Almost immediately, my college boyfriend used this chat system to meet a new girl and cheat on me.
  31. This brings us to our first Big Idea:There is no lag time between the availability of new technology and new ways for people to pursue sex.
  32. Back in the academic part of my education, my school had NO PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES. I had to go with the next closest thing. I took some classes in film and video artmaking. I learned that this is another wonderful language for storytelling that combines images and time and (sometimes) words. I loved learning how film and video could be used to express things. This became my Major.
  33. But I didn’t use it to tell narrative stories. It was more like visual poetry. Here’s a shot from a video project I made on an Amiga 2000. The image is from a painting that my roommate did, which was based on a poster by Marcel Duchamp, which itself ripped off images of the Mona Lisa. It was just a littlevisual experiment, but one of the things that appealed to me about it was the multiple levels of derivation from the original piece of art.
  34. Today we consume data and media almost nonstop, everywhere we go, and think nothing of it. But this is a relatively recent development. So, how did we go from being people with no knowledge of websites to being people that send text messages from a tiny phone as we cross the street?
  35. My academic education was deeply influenced, in all corners, by post-modernism. I don’t think I realized it at the time. In addition to my classes on experimental film and video, I took a bunch of other unusual classes.
  36. Instead of Literature…
  37. I took Comparative Literature, in which you take a theme (in one class it was Art, in another class it was Madness) and look at all different ways that the theme is presented in literature, movies, art, even music. One of my roommates took Literature and Art with me, and he handed in a painting as his final paper.
  38. From this I learned that great stories and ideas transcend their medium.
  39. Instead of Math…
  40. I took an advanced elective in Set Theory, a very abstract approach to mathematics. Mostly it was amusing because my professor could not understand why a film student was taking math electives.
  41. He requested that someday, when I become a filmmaker, I make a film featuring a mathematician who isn’t a cold, calculating murder. I have a feeling he was thinking of Dustin Hoffman in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.
  42. From this class I learned that pretty much anything can be expressed in terms of its underlying logic.
  43. Instead of History…
  44. I took a class called Psychohistory (http://www.psychohistory.com/). I would describe it as the study of history with particular attention to the psychological motivations of the culture. Not the psychology of individual people, but of the group of people as a whole. As ifthe culture has its own fears and desires and subconscious behavior. There is an associated methodology of looking at the media of a culture - its books, newspapers, movies - to learn what’s being unconsciously expressed by the \"mind of the culture.” You look at a bunch of news coverage and other media about a subject, and see what kinds of words and images are being used. The visual and verbal metaphors reveal patterns, and from these emerge a broader & deeper understanding of the general psychological state of the populace.
  45. I grew up during a transitional phase when we were entering the information age. Being part of Generation X, experiencing my formative years when I did, paved the way for me to lead a life online. Indulge me while I provide a brief refresher on Gen X, and then I’ll explain why I think that we were in the perfect position to be the heralds of the digital age.
  46. I did a paper on Televangelists. These people were on TV talking about religion and collecting money from needy, old, gullible people who couldn’t really afford to give their money away. That’s not the reason they were in the news all the time, though. There were all these weird sex scandals, drug scandals, preachers having gold plated plumbing and heated dog houses. One religious figure would loudly condemn another, only to be caught in a scandal of his own the following week. The articles and political cartoons were rich with words and imagery showing that people were waking up to the fact that all of these people were of highly suspicious character.
  47. From this class I learned about the power of subtext, not just for understanding literature, but for understanding the behavior and motivations of real, live human beings.
  48. Instead of Philosophy…
  49. I took Esoteric Philosophy which included Paganism, witchcraft, alchemy, quantum reality, Satanism, pantheism…
  50. and crazy, made-up religions like Discordianism, a joke religion that worships the Greek goddess of Chaos.
  51. Another thing that was a big influence on me at the time was a book called Illuminatus, by Robert Anton Wilson. I first learned of this book in my Esoteric Philosophy class. The authors were part of the Discordian movement. It's a difficult book to describe, but I guess I would say it's a metaphysical conspiracy-theory thriller with lots of humor, sex, time travel, secret societies, drugs, ancient civilizations, robots, goddesses, and more sex. I think I was 19 when I first read this book and I found it to be brilliant, and also mind altering.
  52. One of the brilliant things about the book is that it recasts the “battle between good and evil” as a battle between chaos and order. It promotes the idea that not all order is good and not all chaos is bad. What’s good is constructive chaos and constructive order. What should be avoided is destructive forces of either type.
  53. The way this battle plays out is by way of a group of people who go around trying to shake people out of their usual way of seeing things. They go after smart but lazy minds that need to be woken up. They do this in a variety of ways that range from fairly extreme to very, very subtle. Here’s Discordian a sign that I saw at an event recently – at first glance it looks like an ad for an apartment, but it has some unusual telltale details that should make you think.
  54. Which brings me to the next Big Idea: that it’s possible to effect a change in someone's mental landscape by exposing them to something that is really a carefully crafted agent of viral intelligence, using words or images to make people smarter and more aware, without them even realizing that it's happening.
  55. In my last year of college I went to study in Prague for 4 months…
  56. When I was born, my parents were hippies.
  57. and then lived in Paris for 5 months. One of the interesting effects of living overseas is the new perspective you get on your own culture.
  58. Right around the time I left to go to Prague, Grunge was starting to become a recognized genre of music. I read an article about it in International Newsweek, and although the article itself was pretty lame, it helped me focus my thoughts about what was happening.
  59. The article was trying to explain Grunge music (notably Nirvana) to the “Rock & Roll” generation and talked about the genre’s obsession with “surfaces.”
  60. For example, the sound of the bow running across the strings of a cello is just as important as the notes this makes. Maybe more. According to the article, it was the availability of new recording technology that made this obsession possible.
  61. In the experimental art world, people had been taking apart our notions of making music for a long time. Here’s a piece by experimental video artist, Nam June Paik, from 1971. [As a sidenote: Nam June Paik claimed to have invented the phrase “Electronic Superhighway” in 1974.]
  62. I don’t think this is simply about surfaces, however. I prefer to think of it as an obsession with process.
  63. Though the Newsweek article was mostly not very deep, it did make the point that the creative use of static or feedback or grain (for image) isn’t a cop-out or a gimmick, it isn’t meaningless – it means everything because it tries to use everything, to incorporate all meanings.
  64. Chaos is not the same as white noise. It has patterns and meanings, you just have to find a way to let them emerge.
  65. Using grain and static and white noise, not just straight but incorporating it into your own creation, is taking this overload of information we’ve been given and trying to fit it into our conception of the world.
  66. After my travels I returned home, I graduated from college and, instead of joining the real world…
  67. Their generation was famous for rebelling, for rejecting the assumptions and rules of the generations that came before them. When they had children of their own, they didn’t want to force their beliefs on us.
  68. I moved to New Mexico to go to graduate school. By the way, New Mexico is not in Mexico, as many people believe. It’s part of the United States!
  69. We had Internet at school, but it wasn’t very widely used yet.
  70. At this point we had things like Gopher, Archie and Mosiac. They were accessible on the college campus where I studied and worked, but the general population did not know or care about them.
  71. This is about when I read the book Generation X by a Canadian author named Douglas Coupland, and a whole bunch of things crashed into place.
  72. What the book captured, so perfectly, was what it felt like to have grown up at this time, under these circumstances, and have this confusing reaction to it all. The plot of the story is about three young people who... I don’t even remember. The plot was sort of secondary. But the way the characters spoke, the way the story was told, and even the way the book was put together – with snarky definitions and slogans in the margin – all expressed this sense of paralyzing information-saturation, this anxious sense that perhaps nothing really means anything, and this hopeful promise that there were many, many of us out there feeling exactly the same way.
  73. Here’s a picture of me in my living room at the time. As you can see, we had a very sparse decorating style that combined the Discordian practice of posting abstract signs with the jaded slogans from Coupland’s book.
  74. I actually wrote a letter to Douglas Coupland, thanking him for so perfectly portraying what I was sure so many of us were going through, and he replied with this postcard.
  75. The Big Idea I got from this book: Community is not a new idea, but this demonstrated how it can exist, even among a generation of people that feel like outcasts.
  76. Around this time, there was a great wealth of self-published ‘zines. Here’s the cover of Issue 1 of BoingBoing, from August 1989. They printed a total of 15 issues over 16 years, before becoming the world famous blog that it is today.
  77. The ‘zine explosion was part of a bigger DIY renaissance in music, independent film, and publishing.
  78. So they encouraged us to form our own opinions. Sounds reasonable, but as fresh, new little minds, what were we to base them on?
  79. Here’s a book that came out on the era, just last year. Is this ultra short term nostalgia?
  80. At some point in the mid ‘90s, while I was in graduate school, the general populace started to hear about the Internet. Still, when I wanted to learn HTML, I had to do an independent study and teach it to myself because none of my professors knew anything about it.
  81. A lot happened over the next dozen years, and I’m not going to go through all the ups and downs in the history of the public adoption of the Internet (and then complete submission to digital lives), but I do want to check back in with our big ideas and see what happened with them.
  82. Form your Own Opinion became Democratization of Knowledge. Everyone should be able to get the information they need to base their opinions on, to share their opinions, and learn the opinions of others.
  83. Obsession with Process turned into Obsession with Transparency. We want it in culture, technology, business, government… everywhere.
  84. Community of the Alienated gave rise to Distributed Social Networks. Now you can be friends with people who share your interests and values, even if they live half-way around the world.
  85. Postmodernism is expressed in many places online, notably in the concept of Decentralized Authorship. No one person is the authority when it comes to collections of knowledge like Wikipedia.
  86. Order vs. Chaos plays out in many ways online. These are just a few examples of some of the variations.
  87. The DIY movement has been reborn in the trend of User Generated Content. People are blogging, vlogging, distributing their music, uploading videos, making and selling their own custom t-shirts, posting photos, etc., etc., etc. It’s unstoppable.
  88. People are now Transcending traditional Mediums but telling stories and taking the Means of Distribution into their own hands.
  89. Then, before you know it, we’re entering an information age, with easy access to data coming from TV, radio, newspapers, computers, and many other sources. In unprecedented amounts. All this knowledge can be hard to absorb and sort through.
  90. Transformative Words & Images are still worming their way into our brains in the form of Viral Media.
  91. Underlying Logic is probably one of the Big Ideas most directly relevant to my current work, since I am frequently thinking about and working with Content & Data Structure.
  92. Subtext can be seen in current trends in Text Analysis. I’ve noticed a growing interest in buzz metrics, trend analysis, and sentiment analysis - digital era applications of analyzing subtext, used to help brands figure out how people feel about them. Methodology reminiscent of Psychohistory is applied to the voice of the people, as expressed in blogs, forums, online reviews, etc. Now there’s a lot more raw material to work with.
  93. And of course, Sex is Still Sex. It finds its way into all of our technologies. Would there be a personal computer in nearly every middle class home and dorm room today if weren’t for porn?
  94. In closing, I just want to say that people are doing all kinds of interesting and strange things, and putting them online. It’s not just blogging and photos and other personal data. In addition to some historic dates, here are some of the things I needed and found online in the course of putting this talk together.