Dataism 📖

Macbook selfie not to be mistaken for iPhone selfie.

The dataism of the information regime has totalitarian characteristics. Its aim is total knowledge, but the total knowledge of dataism is achieved not through ideological narration but through algorithmic operations. The aim of dataism is to compute all there is and all there will be. Big data does not recount. Recounting gives way to algorithmic counting. The information regime replaces all that is narrative with the numerical. However intelligent they may be, algorithms are not as effective as ideological narratives at excluding the possibility of the experience of contingency. (9)

—Byung-Chul Han, Infocracy (2022)

Reading back through the underlines I drew while spending time with Infocracy earlier in the week, this sprang pause because of the better-at and worse-at comparison between “ideological narratives” and “algorithmic counting.” If this holds onto a place on the reading schedule for this fall’s Rhetoric in Digital Environments, we may want to sift around for examples of these narratives and this counting. For this class, the examples should stand apart, distinguishable as oil and water, rather than sending us into the haze of a database-narrative emulsion. Some (if not all) of Infocracy will fill in as what followed from the database-vs-narrative (enemies, according to Manovich; symbionts, according to Hayles) debates of the aughts. While resisting a horse race model to explain numbers and stories quant-qual contention over the past two decades and probably longer, we will puzzle out this suggestion that algorithms “are not as effective,” and are, therefore, more forgiving toward “the possibility of the experience of contingency.” I think this means that ideological narratives seal out contingency with a higher rhetorical thread count, a failsafe weed barrier covering the front beds, a reliable fitted sheet that keeps any-all spilt Sunday morning coffee from seeping through.