There's an old blog
post out there in cyberspace, somewhere, written by "The Last
Psychiatrist," but before he had his own website. In it, he makes the
rather interesting point that Sigmund Freud's psychological language reflected
the language of his time. One example was the use of words like
"pressure" and "stress" to describe psychological states,
words that seemingly spring from a world in the midst of an industrial
revolution preoccupied with literal pressure
and stress in the world of machines. He
compared that to the psychological language of the Internet Age, which used
terms like "connected" or "disconnected." Interesting, like
I said. Google it, if you can; it's worth reading.
It certainly made an
impact on me. Over time, I've really come to absorb that concept and adopt it
into my interpretation of our present reality. We're no longer living in a
world of industrial revolution, and it's clear to me, at least, that we have
gone past the Internet Age, too. The internet is still here, of course, but our
age is no longer about "the Net." If I you asked me, I'd say it's now
the Data Age.
Data age distinguishes itself from "Information age," which was the Nineties.
The information age was all about transmitting information from one place to
another, communicating faster, communicating instantly,
passing along information.
No, in a data age, we're not so concerned with
information. What we want is data, ie. stuff that can be harvested, ETL-ed,
relationally databased, processed in a statistical model, and then summarized.
And hopefully monetized, ugh.
But in any case, data is the order of the day. We already take
it for granted that every system with which we interact when we access
computers or phones will harvest data related to that interaction, and then
process it somehow. It will end up on somebody's report, and drive someone's
decision to do something; most often a commercial decision of some kind.
We take that part of
it for granted, but we seldom consider how this has begun to shape our own
individual behavior. One example is fitness tracking. Twenty years ago, almost
no one cared how many steps they take in a day; nowadays, we dutifully track it.
We track our meals and our hours of sleep -- light sleep and deep sleep, and
the amount of each is tracked and understood to matter.
We track fitness-related things that we never thought to track before, such as
the cadence of our running stride (which is useless), and the vertical oscillation.
already written about how all this information isn't worth anything unless
we can somehow develop computer programs that solve necessary problems. It's
junk, basically. It doesn't do you any good to know that 17% of your monthly
grocery budget is spent on beef. What would be useful if someone developed an
algorithm that was able to identify all the meat and meat-substitutes present
on your monthly grocery bill and developed an app that told you, "If you replaced half your monthly beef with
chicken, you'd spend $20 less; if you replaced it with squid, you'd spend $30
less; if you replaced it with lentils, you'd spend $50 less." Or
whatever the case might be.
The key point here
is that havinga collection ofdata is as pointless as having a collection
of bottle caps. Unless you plan on doing something with your data, it is
senseless to collect it. That's an easy point to make about businesses who
store terabytes upon terabytes of data in huge data centers. But it's an even
more important point to make for people who dedicate a part of their day to
recording their meals, their weight, their time spent reading, and so on.
To be sure, I record
every data point that relates to my health and fitness regimen that I possibly
can, but I have a reason for doing this.
In my case, I'm trying to keep my blood sugar readings as low as possible.
Normal people have absolutely no reason to care what percentage of their last
workout was in Heart Rate Zone 3. Really, it doesn't matter.
point connects to yesterday's point about paperwork. Paperwork is, at its core,
data collection, and we have begun to believe
and to act as if action is impossible
without some parallel instance of data. We've gone from "I think,
therefore I am" to "Without data, there is no record that I thought
anything in the first place, therefore everything is data." Granted, that
doesn't quite roll off the tongue like cogito
I started writing
this blog post because I was thinking to myself, if today is the Data Age, then
what will the next Age be? But in writing down my thoughts, I've shifted my
talking about "monetizing" what they're doing, as though having ten
thousand people view the acoustic cover of "Careless Whisper" you put
up on YouTube isn't reward enough, as though those ten thousand people are irrelevant
to you unless they become PledgeMusic donors. I think this attitude is crass
and self-limiting. I love making money, but it's not everything I do in life. There are some things worth doing
merely because they are inherently meaningful: climbing a mountain, making
love, teaching your child how to read, listening to the birds in the trees and
feeling the sunshine on your face as you drink coffee on your patio on a warm
Sunday morning. Some things ought not be monetized. Maybe not even art.
But maybe this
modern age of data, of data collection, could turn out to be
something that we can make use of. The Beatles are considered the greatest rock
band of all time, mostly because there is a historical record that says so;
ie., they are thought to be the best because that's
whatthe data says. The data
tells a story about the Beatles. Now there can never be "another
Beatles," not because four young guys can't make music that good, but
because four young guys can't generate 50 years of data that tells the story of
…or maybe they can.
One of the big
differences between musical artists nowadays and musical artists when I was
growing up is their lack of a story. In most cases, this is because there is no
story to tell. Pop vixens basically spend their wonder years in voice lessons,
then if they're sexy enough they get pitched to a record company that chooses
to develop them or not. That's not a story, it's just a sausage-maker.
When I was in high
school, I could tell you exactly how the members of my favorite bands met each
other, how they developed their musical style, how they went from nothing to
something, the story behind the recording of their breakthrough album, and so on.
There's even a bit
of showmanship involved in having a story. What's better, "Raj the
Magnificent," or "Raj the Magnificent, who tamed three bears with a
song when he was just 13, who drank from the waters of Shangri-Upor and kissed
the Queen of Daan, and who, after a decade of study under the harpmasters of
the Lower Peaks of Cheryn brings his heart-felt lyrical poetry to your home
town, for your listening pleasure?"
Not that one should
fabricate a story a la Jared Threatin,
but why not get your story out there, whatever it is? We're a culture that
depends on the existence of data; we trade in memes, because memes are data
points; the more memes, the more data; present your ideas as a well-established
meme, and perhaps you're one step ahead of the game.