Context, context, context
On ESPN’s morning sportstalk show ‘First Take,’ the day after Lebron James and the Miami Heat won the 2012 title, Mark Cuban appeared to debate Skip Bayless (transcript here). The throwdown actually began when Cuban taunted Bayless over Twitter, saying his 2.5 year old son knows more about basketball than Bayless.
First, Mark Cuban is a fierce debater, and, second, apparently Cuban is heavily invested in the intellectual capital of cutting-edge analytical thinking (in this case, the analytics of basketball, for Cuban is the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks).
A few weeks ago I was surprised to find Cuban the author of an informed comment left at a sociology blog I frequent — socfinance — a blog I quite like but would not think to be in the wheelhouse of anyone who, like Cuban, has already made his billions. The economic and social theory of analytics going on in the sociology of finance — to which socfinance contributes — is far more complex and empirical than, say, the ‘libertarian’ beliefs of many tech billionaires, even, say, Peter Thiel.*
For a tech billionaire like Cuban to engage with a qualitative sociology blog that is in someways theoretically opposed to (and often critical of) overly mathematical frameworks of human institutions, is, by my understanding, out of the ordinary, and given my own approach to analytics, of both basketball and society, exciting to say the least.
At present, the world of intellectual thought is in love with mathematical and quantitative approaches, and it should be, as algorithms and such created the social media sphere, a tremendous accomplishment for which, as an obsessed analyst and lover of data, I am incredibly grateful. However, qualitative analytical approaches, that see objective environments as defined by the meanings that arise out of different contexts, are necessary to properly use the proliferation of symbolic data coming out of the social media sphere. Symbolic data should not be rigidly subjected to the deformation that inevitably occurs when any data are approached as important onlysofar as they can be made mathematically generalizable across multiple contexts. Symbolic data ARE the context.
In today’s showdown, Cuban’s theory of analytics was made more explicit, and could be summed up with that one word: context. Read the entire transcript, which I’ll make available here.
In terms of the theoretical perspective of analytics-as-context, I find Cuban’s recent financial loss from Facebook shares (another reason he is in the news) to be interesting, in terms of the thesis I have developed in this blog, namely, the weakness of Facebook’s data and, by extension, the weakness of Facebook’s entire enterprise. The argument I have made is that Facebook’s data are potentially weak precisely at the unit of analysis Cuban favors: context, context, context. Facebook data are behavioral data, but you leave still wondering: why? Why did he click ‘like’? What was the context of his clicking ‘like’?
Throughout this blog I have tried to hit home and explain the bare outlines of a theory in which the value of economic objects, including data, is best thought of as based in context. The proliferation of intellectual property and corresponding need for good analytical understandings of human behavior have been the blog’s setting and backdrop. I have used this space to explore some aspects of intellectual property and leave many more questions unanswered. A new economics of value — of context, context, context — is within our grasps. I have tried to present ideas I think will blow up and actually become something. I thank ‘First Take’ for giving a platform for a brief lecture on an important subject, and I thank Mark Cuban for taking full advantage.
(Much of my blogging time over the next six months will be spent here, where I try to document political instances of power/knowledge in the 2012 presidential election, and where I explain my position that the US, in many cases, needs new structures of knowledge, and the Obama agenda is the clear best hope for a renewed, vibrant, entrepreneurial US economy now and going forward.)
*I like Peter Thiel, but either Thiel is a libertarian or he is not. If he’s a scientist at all, he has to lose the libertarian. You can think (a) the human environment consists of fully differentiated atoms living one-hundred percent free from one another, or you can think (b) the human environment is a field of interactions between forces observable and not always observable. Or you can think (c), whatever that is. But you cannot think (a) and (b). The science is on one side; Thiel is on the other, trying to stake out a sophisticated libertarianism. To my mind, Thiel will not succeed in developing a persuasive reason for anyone to ignore the science of sociology in favor of libertarianism. This is because libertarianism is inferior to sociology as an empirical approach to understanding human behavior: atomization is not the finding of social science; interaction is.