Trish, Reiner and the Politics of Open Data

by Henry Farrell on July 4, 2012

Ongoing debates over open data remind me of Cory Doctorow’s short story, “Human Readable”:, which depicts attitudes to technology through a disagreement between lovers. Reiner is a classic hacker – he thinks of the world in terms of technological fixes for technological problems, and has difficulty in believing that the algorithms can be systematically skewed. Trish is a classic lefty, who thinks of the world in terms of power relations, and, specifically, in terms of how smart powerful people figure out ways to gimmick the system so that it works to their advantage. They don’t understand each other very well but end up, sort of, figuring out a way to cooperate. Clearly, real life people have more complicated views than Doctorow’s characters – even so, he’s put his finger on an important tension. When I went to Foo Camp a few years ago, I found it incredibly intellectually exhilarating – meeting a bunch of people who were both (a) smarter than me, and (b) intensely practical, interested in figuring out how to do stuff rather than study it. But I was also a bit nonplussed by how enthusiastically many of them believed that the Obama administration was going to usher in a new era of Big Data led technocracy. A lot of them (not all of them) didn’t seem to have any very good idea of how politics actually worked. They were mostly Reiner, without much admixture of Trish.
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This post is mostly by way of trying to make Bertram, Robins and Gourvitch’s post sticky, as it deserves to stay at the top for a while. If you haven’t read their post yet, do so. If you are already reasonably conversant with their points, proceed under the fold, if you like, for what is really just a Hayek-inflected restatement and reinforcement of some of their main points. (Also, it’s effectively a late, long footnote to the Red Plenty seminar): [click to continue…]