Incorporating data into the fabric of our lives


Humans are emotional beings. Data is not. Not by itself as it sits innate as isolated bits of information in a database somewhere, anywhere, and not when it seemingly comes alive and forms the lines and hills and valleys or fancier elements of a 3D graphic. Data does not care if your biopsy result is benign or malignant. It shows no alarm at falling test scores in schools or worry over a weakening economy. Data is what it is.

This is why as a whole we will probably never have a real affinity for data in our daily lives. It tells us too many things we don't want to hear. But that's reality. Besides, there is a flip side to this stoic companion called information. Although it shows no emotion as it tells you--of all the millions of people along the Eastern Seaboard--that you in particular are about to get walloped, it is in fact a good thing to know.

And though it shows no surprise when it reveals that statistically speaking, we are living in the most peaceful time in the history of humanity--so says Steven Pinker--it surprises us and gives us a sliver of hope.

During times of crisis and heartache like those felt especially hard in the eastern U.S. this week, most people just want to get through it. They want to gather themselves and their loved ones and deal with the situation at hand. They feel about statistics and data the way New Jersey Governor Chris Christie felt about presidential politics on the days leading up to, during and after the hurricane: They don't give a damn.

But that's another thing about data. It gets generated whether you want it or not. And most of it will wait around until someone somewhere wants to do something with it. It is always better when instruments are put in place to collect, store and sort this data so it can be turned into something meaningful.

That is why, as we get more comfortable living in a world that is very data driven, it is important that we practice two things: knowing when to step outside of the data bubble and live, and when to turn to the data to inform us how to live better, safer lives.

Of course, there are times when we just can't get enough data. Baseball, for instance, and horse racing. But lately, our focus has been on presidential politics and big data has already begun to play a role here. So, check out our Special Report on Big Data and the 2012 Presidential Election. - Tim