More Data, Less Wisdom


I am writing this blog to make some sense of our new data-rich world. If you collected the reading material that is spread throughout my haunts, you would find multiple copies of Wired, Time, Popular Science magazines lying around in piles, partially read, you’d find subscriptions to the Economist and Wall Street Journal, and Reuters News Pro on my ipad, a greasy spot on the glass where the twitter app sits on my iphone, you’d find my browser homepage set to popurls.com and reddit.com, a long list of blog sites like WordPress in my bookmarks and a copy of “The Hunger Games” halfway read. I’m trying to absorb all of this information and I am failing miserably!!   I don’t have time to digest it all and I actually feel like I know less than I use to. 

There is a deeply embedded function of human nature. As a society we tend to apply an ever compounding value to the familiar.  Think about Bill Cosby, the Beatle’s “Let it Be”, or the movie Casablanca. What makes them so great? Are they actually better than the comedian Ralphie May, the song “Landed” by Ben Folds, or a better movie than “The Fall” by Tarsem Singh?  I would say they are not, if judged by an audience untainted by historic exposure.  We reward those that have made it and those who have endured.  Ever had to do “YMCA” in a football stadium? Nuf said.  Instinctually this is probably brain stem activity that helps us bond and respect the ancient tribal elders. If you have achieved and endured you are rewarded with top-level celebrity status.  Elders were storytellers they effected our consumption of data. This elder archetype has been prevalent throughout our history, and as recently as the 1960’s was epitomized in the role of “trusted news anchor”.  Remember Ed Murrow or Walter Cronkite? These two men epitomized the role. Millions daily would get almost their entire world perspective from the trusted news anchor. 

In my observation, the trusted news anchor was less biased, more prescriptive and his stories more thoughtfully prepared than the “newstainment” of today. Trust is a powerful tool. It was instrumental in setting a national mood for war, or for mourning when John Kennedy was assassinated.  This enabled our country and created a commonality that was well…”familiar”.  When the news finished, whether it was good or bad, you were intent with the outcome. You felt you knew what you needed to know. 

There were super structures in the past that simplified our consumption of information in a temporal way.  We knew what we needed to know for that timeframe. You could say we chose to work with less data, but process it systematically. This has been a valid strategy, consider North Korea, or U.S.A in 1962 or 2002. Because of constraints we focused on less compared to the information orgy we are living in today. I’m not professing censorship or mind-control in the least. However I do believe these cultural and process super structures are really important and I believe these conveyances have not kept time with the growth of Big Data.

 Many of us cannot find the same feeling of closure, nor can we apply introspection in the same way. It’s also hard to file away what you learn, to use later. In the words of the Police song: “Too much information running through my brain”.  I actually feel the per unit value of information ingested, and its effect on my wisdom, is going down. So much so, I have come to the conclusion that some data is actually making me less wise; clouding my perspective, ruining the contextual assignments of data in my brain and fogging my memory of the trusty foundational constructs that I use to apply information.

I share these ramblings in an effort to bring attention to that messy grey area of context, consumption, and application. As banks process millisecond transactional activity, the retail industry data mines twitter, and groups like UNESCO do population studies like say “the correlation of secondary education on the global GDP”. We need to draw bigger conclusions we also need to draw regional conclusions, and understand the difference. We need to know when to ponder a concept and when to take action. We need work to better our consumption models so they are not consistently myopic or lost in a web aggregator’s magazine format. We need to consider how we weight information to help cull the significant from the silly. “Too much” is as inoperable as “none at all”. Better consumption will help us apply our learning to achieve and inspire. Ultimately, how do we replicate the “trusted anchor” on the grander scale of Big Data.

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3 thoughts on “More Data, Less Wisdom

  1. There is a quote attributed to Charles M Schulz: “There is no greater burden than great potential.”

    Data rich world? Ever hear the proverbial tale of walking to the baker with a wheelbarrow full of devalued currency to buy a loaf of bread? We are suffering from data hyper-inflation in more ways than one.

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