Coda: Unstructured Data

As promised this the last time I will ever write about the oxymoron unstructured data; I already feel like a Harpy in The Wood of Self-murderers except I am torturing those who have committed intellectual suicide.  Some of you reading this may find this post harsh but as Richard Bandler observed you only need to feel insulted if it applies to you.

Google unstructured data and it returns 700,000 hits.  Wikipedia starts with this definition:

Unstructured data (or unstructured information) refers to masses of (usually) computerized information which do either not have a data structure or one that is not easily readable by a machine.”

The hyperlink to data structure says this:  “In computer science, a data structure is a way of storing data in a computer so that it can be used efficiently. It is an organization of mathematical and logical concepts of data.”

I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to;  so according to the Wikipedia author(s) the only thing that qualifies for unstructured data would be a pseudo random number generator, books, magazines, and printed documents.  I can’t imagine this is what he had in mind when defining the term.  He most likely used unstructured knowledge to write it, that and a crayola.

Those with whom I have argued over this term tend to respond in three ways.  For some when I have shown them the denotative nonsense of it , fall back to its connotative meaning.  “I agree with you; it is an oxymoron but the term is useful to distinguish between data in databases and the all the other data”  A utilitarian argument for a term whose descriptive power is based on a shared hallucination of meaning.   Apparently once you have gathered a sufficiently large number of idiot enthusiasts you have a powerful semantic swarm for persuading the me-too masses.  Others, less bright or perhaps intellectually honest will argue that when you put the words together they take on new meaning, like mixing colors I suppose or the German compound noun and LSD. Now, you really can see the meaning.  Finally, there are the invincibly ignorant whom no argument conceived could convince otherwise.

What has this term contributed to the advancement of computer science, to knowledge, or to decision making?  Anyone?  As far as I can tell it has only contributed to marketing, to pseudo-intellectual posturing, pretense of knowledge,  the selling of quackery and of course, as always, a PhD thesis.

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