Truth & Quantity

What counts gets counted: 6 years of numbers in radio news

truth-and-quantity.com

Truth & Quantity appears in a series of 3 projects, for which I collected & processed over 50,000 NPR news broadcasts. Read more about the series & its projects here: Breaking the News.

Numbers are believed to be humanity’s original motivation for creating written language. Sumerians developed the first known scripts in order to store records of trade, accounting & agricultural production, while written language for poetry, literature and knowledge only appeared much later. Today, these numeric origins still cast their shadow in the way we construct & experience the daily record of our world.

Numbers create categories and abstractions as we count things that are deemed to be the same and should be counted together. 7 oranges are reduced to the same kind of cardinal object, one next to the other; 100,000 refugees lose their individuality; 7 victims are separated from “7 others.” The precision of numbers charms us with a scientific voice of irrefutability: the more quantified a narrative, the more believable it becomes in our understanding, regardless of its accuracy or relevance. A world constructed and upheld by numbers refuses to investigate the intangible as well as the infinite, leaving many of our most existential questions unanswered.


Truth & Quantity is a project I created to focus on the things we count. It takes NPR’s hourly news updates and reduces them to just the nouns and numbers: 7 suspects, 30 years, 2 billion dollars.

The news reflects a world that can be counted, categorized and rationalized in discrete quantities. If the news is a narrative of numbers, what are numbers without narrative? And what is our narrative without numbers?

Process

Every day at 8am and 8pm, Truth & Quantity transcribes NPR’s hourly news update using speech recognition & natural language analysis. It then selects all plural nouns from the news script and generates two compilations: one for each month (going back to 2009) and another for various quantities, such as all instances of “7” or “100 million.” Using the project’s “Jump” link, viewers can explore these different compilations in a never-ending loop. Clicking on a given number will play an extended version of the original clip, revealing its context for a short moment.

Podcast & MP3s

Every Friday, Truth & Quantity publishes a weekly podcast (also on iTunes), which combines all numbers in the news of the preceding 7 days.

A selection of Truth & Quantity compilations is also available for download.

About

Truth & Quantity is a project by Gregor Hochmuth and appears in a 3-part series that explores our relationship with the news & broadcast. Read more about the series & its projects here: Breaking the News.


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