Sunday, January 22, 2006

Phenetic Urge

I was reading along in an article called "Neighbourhoods on the Net" when I ran across an unfamiliar phrase: phenetic urge. The article evaluates the impact of datasets circulating online about real neighborhoods.  The three authors collected links to 33 sites that make use of "geodemographic" data--income, pollution, average selling price homes, etc.  They reduced the list to seventeen profiled examples, and from there, zeroed in on four sites for extended "case studies." To conclude, the article offers a set of implications for policy, which includes conclusions about screwy data leading to flawed representations of certain places and accessibility concerns, notably--and repeatedly--cast in terms of age and economic status ("Those sections of the population that are financially unable and/or unwilling (as is the case with many older people) to access online sources will be increasingly disadvantaged as information availability and society's dependence on it expands" (37)).

Phenetic urge nods to the taxonomy impulse, the classificatory move.  Here's the immediate context:

Allowing for the enormous difficulties involved in 'un-inventing' IBNIS ['Internet-based Neightbourhood Information Systems'] (let alone the 'phenetic urge' of which they are so potent a symbol), the core policy issue to come out of this report is how best to ensure that the advantages of IBNIS are not outweighed by the disadvantages listed above. (36)

Specifically, the disadvantages are much like those I already mentioned: "mis-characterising localities," "inacurate depiction[s]," "unwarranted 'redlining,'" and "online marginalisation."   Ultimately, the concern-as-delivered is over the datasets (geodemographic and, perhaps, beyond) representing neighbourhoods on the net.  A Beckettian critique: "The danger is in the neatness of identifications."  IBNIS, their place-identifying data, are a potent symbol of "phenetic urges."

I went about digging around for "phenetic," and found its association with clusters whose correspondence rests in observable patterns.  Near neighbor: phylogenic: groupings based on known-to-be-inherited traits.  I wonder how this positions the phenetic urge differently in time.  Does this mean that phenetic urges are always momentary and impulsive or can those observations take years?  Also, does phenetic classification rely only on observational methods (phenomenology, the report of senses, etc.)?  Thinking through this keeps me at the question about the "urge," too.  Urgency; the urgent-ic state.  Given that the article is concerned with datasets as they apply to spaces, I'm interested in what this might mean for tagging, for the urge to apply a tag.  But there's more: how do our own tendencies for placing texts, let's say, in particular intellectual traditions reconcile with these two orientations: phenetic and phylogenic? 

Stopping here. I'm swamped, and need funnel what's left of the shortening evening toward a list of coming-dos in the week ahead.