Beki Grinter

People are not Numbers

In computer science, discipline, empirical on August 9, 2011 at 8:56 am

I think by now you all know my concerns about metrics programs. Metrics work by reducing people to numbers. Sometimes this is through products (e.g., software development) but since those are human-built this is also a metric. We can collect it and measure it, and so we do (and I think perhaps engineering oriented cultures are particularly prone to this), but far less often do we ask does that quantity represent quality.

Another way I see this made manifest is in the seduction of studying online social networks. We leave our digital footprint when we use tools like Facebook. The danger is that we confuse the online with the real. Is what we can digitally trace and subject to computation and visualization a good representation of our lives, experiences, desires and so much more? How well, for example, do Facebook check-ins deal with people who go to places that they don’t want you to know about and what does that tell you about location? How many Facebook statuses are lies, and what does that tell you about the truth versus identity maintenance?

And then of course there are the critiques of the economic collapse. Did the increased reliance on mathematical modeling cause our economic downturn? No I don’t think so. Did our over-reliance on mathematical models of people? Well this article suggests yes and it’s not alone in doing so.


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