"We are not sharing that much information on social media": a conversation between Lev Manovich and Anna Wójcik. Published October 30, 2015.
Q.: Computers are responsible for the data analysis, but – at least for now – the task of interpretation still belongs to human scientists. What is most difficult about interpreting cultural data sets?
A.: It is very tempting to look at culture through familiar lenses and well-established categories: important/not important, male/female, white/non-white, city/country. Computer science tools give us the possibility to go beyond safe categories and safe questions in our research.
The traditional approach to research in the social sciences is to start with a research question and then go through documents or data. But when you allow the computer to go through and analyse all the novels and short stories by a certain Polish author, you may end up with several thousand clusters of similar words or phrases. This may change the way you formulate your research question.
Imagine that your goal is to investigate a newly discovered planet. What would you do first? Would you start with a question about whether the planet has oil or mountains? Or is it better to send a discovery mission to the planet to photograph its landscape, to get the picture? My advice is not to start with a research question, but to map what is where first. When we proceed like this, we get different results and end up with interpretations that vary from what we already know about our culture. This is our contribution to cultural development.