Data limiting our humanity. That essentially sums up my question. With the rise of big data and using “scientific” methods to make everything efficient I think that we may be losing the mental and physical space for randomness and thus an important part of our humanity and that elusive creativity.
Take the simple linearity of essentially any graph. Where does that crisp linearity exist anywhere in the world that is not based primarily in a calculator? Sure, further “out” from a lot of data one gets a general line but closer to the data, with more data points closer together in time most things tend to get fuzzy. That fuzziness is where all of the creativity, humanity, virtue, decisions, enjoyment, flourishing, and basically anything else we would consider good, happens.
So, with the interest in data, I think, we can be losing that fuzziness. Everything falls into a category now, recommendations, desires, etc. They all actually end up creating their own categories and then their own stereotypes, which are actually true! Are we actually forcing ourselves into specific boxes? Essentially the antipathy of what a lot of us would like?
That idea, asking the right questions, needs to become a research topic for social sciences/business/government/anything that uses statistics (meaning: everything).
As an example, I am working with an organization that is attached to a national level organization. The national level has a survey for the individual organizations to fill out which asks about various aspects of the organization. Filling out this little survey though gives the specific organization I am a part of a pretty bad grade though because this survey fails to ask whether the organization has it’s own building, where the organization is geographically in reference to military and/or minority groups. Pretty important things that will not be taken into account when filing the paperwork I am sure.
Take a look at grant reports for development work world-wide too; they bring to mind a phrase I heard once, “Development projects never fail.” None of the grants will ever report a failure although, if you return to those project sites maybe a year later, it will be awfully difficult to find a success. Take a closer look at the reports though and the things they ask for are “how many individuals are taught x?”; “how many x were built?”; “how much money was made through x-technique?” All factors in a successful development project but certainly not the final factors and, I suspect, not even the most important factors.
This was the strength of journalism: helping show the details lost in the statistics; but, we all know where that discussion goes at the moment.
So, if these questions are unfair, asking the wrong questions or not actually help improve what is going on, it would seem that we need to learn how ask questions properly. What these questions are, I am not sure yet. I will state that the questions are not nearly as easy to ask or measure though looks like we might have to step back from our love affair with numbers or, at least, recognize that they are representations of a much more complicated world. Maybe the first question to ask, what is the specific situation of x in comparison to other places we are measuring?