Week 6: Are you data-driven?

Data. It controls our life, whether we like it or not data is what drives our lives, through its impact on the economy, society, politics and particularly technology.

In Paul Edwards 2010 book ‘A Vast Machine’ he makes makes the following statement, in page xix of his introduction, that is crucial to understanding why data is both crucial and relevant:

  • “If you use a lot of sensors, you are going to need data models to make their signals into meaningful information.”

Yet you are still asking why data? Data has been around since humans have been able to archive information but what has changed the game is the fact data can now be gathered, recorded and published almost instantaneously through web-based technology; which through wireless or mobile devices has changed the way we live. Don’t believe me? Next time you are home on a friday or saturday night watch you Facebook News Feed carefully and see what establishments you’re friends are checking into, how many people have checked in that night and how many people like that Facebook page. If you then go to a site like eatability.com.au its more than likely that establishment will have a high rating. However, its highly probable you may have already been to the venue without checking an online rating because your perceived view about a ‘good’ or ‘cool’ venue will have already been influenced by looking at who checks in and the photos published from the event.

Similarly, Conrad Quilty-Harper (a data mapping reporter) determines that data is driving the lives of families in America with the LA times running a data assessment about the quality of teaching by gathering data from:

“test scores from 600,000 students between 2002 and 2009, allowing it to calculate “value added” scores, or a measure of the progress students have made between different stages of education. This analysis shows that some schools have improved the academic achievement of its students at a greater rate than other, more respected schools.”


This would allow parents to make an educated decision about where they send their kids to school based on the data recorded and obtained. In Australia the Federal Government’s my school.edu.au website does the same thing by making overall NAPLAN scores for schools accessible to parents, teachers, educators and other stakeholders.

Finally, if you still think you may not be what I like to call “LUI” or living under the influence of data lets look at another example of data’s impact on our everyday lives, Gary Wolf documents Ben Lipkowitz’s 2005 purchase of a electronic datebook “…on a trip to Tokyo on May 11, 2005, which he started using to keep a record of his actions. Instead of entering his future appointments, he entered his past activities, creating a¬†remarkably complete account of his life. In one sense this was just a normal personal journal, albeit in a digital format and unusually detailed. But the format and detail made all the difference. Lipkowitz eventually transferred the data to his computer, and now, using a few keyboard commands, he can call up his history”. Which is what Facebook’s implementation of the Timeline, implemented on 24 January 2012, has done for us by chronologically ordering the content on our individual Facebook pages that collates the data and segments the information. Furthermore, if you don’t perceive that the information on your Facebook is valuable, on the 24th of January Facebook advise users they would have “7 days to preview what’s there now. Giving you a chance to add or hide whatever you want before anyone else sees it”. Moral of the story anything that gives information or can be scrutinised to reach a conclusion is data, and if you go back and delete things of your Facebook, or make a decision based on online statistics: YOU”VE BEEN DRIVEN BY DATA!




Paul Macdonald

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