Data has always existed
Whether it be in the Lascaux caves or on the tablets of Roman laws, humans have always recorded their activities under some form or another. The interpretation of this data by human specialists can teach us about a time period, a legal text, or even an artisanal technique. In this sense, data is an imprint of humanity, a recording that allows us to recreate or reinterpret an event after the fact.
Why has data gained popularity?
The current mania over data is largely due to the technologies of our time and the mythology that they inspire. Thanks to the wide availability of technology, humanity is in the process of digitizing everything. However, the types of data that we have are different from the data used in statistics, the ladder being mathematical representations, at times conceptual and at other times factual representations of human phenomenon, like economic or demographic data.
Despite an extremely basic “spelling” system composed of 0 and 1, numerical data give machines the capability to perceive an image, sound, movement, or human gesture and to recreate them with more or less accuracy. In this way, everything becomes data, including geographic, industrial, commercial, and environmental data as well as every type of media produced since the beginning of humanity. In this way, renaissance paintings and sound recordings from the past century become numerical artifacts along with the 7,200 hours of video uploaded onto YouTube every day and sound recordings originating from space. They all come together to reveal an incredibly rich landscape for recreating or reimagining our world.
The Internet of Things, which includes 20.3 billion connected devices* and 2.3 billion smart phones**, is constantly gathering a detailed report on the functions these technologies execute and, by extension, provides a previously unimaginable source for understanding the behavior of people that use them.
Using data as a creative springboard
In this sense, we can articulate a mythology surrounding the current technological era that places creativity and the capacity for innovation at the heart of progress. With this almost infinite amount of raw material (281 billion gigabytes recorded to date), we are in the process of creating new types of intelligence in the hope that exploring the smallest data will take us to a conclusion that is infinitely greater.
Asking the tough questions about data use
With this capability and power also comes questions of considerable responsibility. What does this reveal about our societies and about each of us individually? Who is to judge the veracity, or at least the accuracy, of this conclusion in comparison to reality? Who has the right to access this information or even the right to use it? If we accept the democratic principal of freedom and access of information, what medias will we need to interpret and relay this information to the general public? And if any information proves to be false, what will be the consequences? Will we be able to recognize them? Hints at these questions have already become a part of our daily life.
From the point of view of public organizations and businesses, this creates an enormous opportunity to update what they offer to citizens and consumers. Products, the manufacturing processes behind them and services offered to consumers could all be effectively redesigned. An innovation’s environmental impact, acceptability, and even its rate of adoption by the public could be improved. Consider self-driving cars that are redefining even the very idea of travel.
Data affects every field
For every innovator, manager, and entrepreneur, data-related questions are not simply technical any more than they are purely speculative. Every individual active in an organization must recognize the importance of these questions and, at the very least, consider how they affect their day-to-day work. Market studies, surveys, analysis of commercial data, and guessing your client’s needs will never be enough. I would even venture to say that they lead us even farther into the shadows instead of enlightening us.
Source: Vaughn DiMarco, Coach for the Data Culture Course
Thus, the metaphor “Data is the new oil” continues to be relevant as it refers to the creative potential of data to be transformed into new and innovative products and uses. It has everything to do with the idea of creative sciences. It is up to each and every one of us to learn and adopt the modern methodologies of creation if we are to truly believe in the possibility of a better, more just, and, perhaps most importantly, healthier world.
Did you like this article? We recommend that you look into the Data Culture course offered at Factry.
Fady Atallah, Program designer and workshop leader for the Data Culture course