The American Data Culture Since 1820: From Madison’s Political Philosophy to Nielsen Ratings
Three decades after peoplemeters were introduced into the business of syndicated audience measurement, there are approximately 20,000 peoplemeter-installed households in the US. However, growth of peoplemeters has been far slower or stationary in similarly developed countries: Japan’s number has yet to hit over 1,000; the UK’s has stayed between 4,000 and 5,000 for over two decades. Presuming that cultural variance is a critical variable in determining how particular television advertising markets respond to technological innovation in audience measurement, this study attempts to identify American data culture by using what historians say about the American past as ethnographic data. To understand the unique data culture of the US, this study examines a historian’s transcription of President Kennedy’s 1963 order of a survey on racial equality as representative, employing Clifford Geertz’s semiotic definition of culture. Identifying its historical origins, this study asserts that American data culture has been perpetuated primarily by the evangelical beliefs in God’s benevolence and common sense, once forged by the radical egalitarianism of the American Revolution and incorporated institutionally in the schedule of the 1820 Census. Informed by Madisonian insights on the role of limited government, this egalitarian culture has led the American people to maintain unique habits of mind useful for reaching a better state of Union.