Missing the Trees That Create the Forest

In an interesting article I read just today, I was reminded of the old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”  But it is in the reverse that I mention I mention it here, “You can’t see the trees for the forest.”  The following quote is from the article I read:

“When we treat data as a “given” (which is, in fact, the etymology of the word), we see it in the abstract, as an urban fixture like traffic or crowds. We need to shift our gaze and look at data in context, at the lifecycle of urban information, distributed within a varied ecology of urban sites and subjects who interact with it in multiple ways. We need to see data’s human, institutional, and technological creators, its curators, its preservers, its owners and brokers, its “users,” its hackers and critics” (Mattern 2017).

To me, in relation to what we have been looking at this block in terms of community, I think people have a tendency to overlook the essentials of the individual in favor of the overall community.  what do we learn from Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets?  We keep up with daily news.  We are reminded of birthdays for people who are not only our friends (which is important) but the birthdays of friends of my friends, and their friends, and so on ad nauseum.  We are reminded of dates and events that we may never have been associated with other than we “know” someone in our feed who may have been.  This is the community in which we find ourselves today.  A community of data and information that likely has little or no meaning to us personally.  We use “data” to connect via platforms of all kinds.  In this course alone some of the “connections we have made with classmates and instructors have been Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Google Hangouts, and a myriad of others.  And, we try to tie them all together using IFTTT to one degree of success or another.

I wonder sometimes as just how deep our connection with others really is.  I know I have had some meaningful exchanges with others in the class over one channel or another.  And honestly, for most I have had little or no contact depending on if I happen to comment on their blog posts or not.  I have been too consumed negotiating the forest that I have failed to stop and consider the trees.  Interstingly, the participants in the MOOC in which I am enrolled seem to want to stop and not touch and feel each tree, but every bush as well, smell every flower, watch the birds and listen to the wind whistle as it moves among it all.

The question that presents itself is who is more a part of a community, me or them?  It is a hard question and of course the answer is determoned by what kind of community is sought by each individual or group.  So, I suppose the answer ultimately is academic, or at least rhetorical.  But I digress, I think.  The quotation above, and the article overall, speaks of looking deeper and considering the individual, of seeing how this community is built and who built it and why.  I find myself falling into this trap on many occasions: looking so hard at the forest but not seeing the individual and unique trees that make the forest what it is supposed to be.

Mattern, Shannon.  “A City Is Not A Computer.”  Places, February 2017.