Data is everywhere. It touches and informs every aspect of our lives.
You go to the doctor, and your medical records are electronic on a computer screen before your eyes.
You bank online.
The stock market is all done by computers.
We are living in The Data Age.
I grew up in a time where the word data seemed to be only used in science classrooms. Now, it’s data this, data that, data here, data there. Consumer technology and social media have shot data out of a cannon. We want to pinpoint the minutiae of every day life down to the smallest factoid so that a story can be told from it. And this is not such a bad thing, but it does make me wonder what the next 50 years will bring. How much more can we manipulate and manufacture data into other ‘life’ forms?
It seems as though modern times are placing a huge expectation upon big data; mainly, that it will solve all of our problems. And while there is this potential to help us make informed decisions, we cannot expect data to tell us what the decisions are that need to be made. Creativity is the first ingredient in the blender.
This creativity emerges again in the processing of the data and figuring out the best means to present the data in a way that paints a story that is easily understandable. Many are not literate in data and this divide is very clear in different populations of students and communities. How we teach data literacy in schools is and will be increasingly important. How kids learn the very act of searching the Internet will be crucial in helping them understand data and how to present that data.
A good example of teaching data literacy comes from within my own family. A 70-year old man wanted to learn how to use the Internet. His sons tried, became frustrated at the process. The sons passed him onto the grandsons, who became frustrated as granddad paused to write down every step so he could get online by himself. One of the sons, a principal at a primary school tried something different. He brought his dad to school and set him down in the computer class with the 8-year-olds. There he learned everything he needed to know – how to get online, how to search. Now he’s planning trips to the Italian Alps, keeping up on the golf scores, staying in touch with his children over email, reading history books online.
The Internet of Everything is expanding. Machines are connected globally. Data has gotten big, really big. Data illiteracy and a lack of computer basics will continue to divide populations. However, with the right instruction, generational gaps can be bridged. Fundamentally how we learn is the same; it’s just the tools that are changing. Big data is changing the world.