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Why I Don't Find 'Data Porn' Very Interesting

September 7, 2013, 1:00 AM
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There's some data that's not created by humans, like the air conditioner could output data of what amount energy it was emitting at a certain hour and this sort of stuff.  But most data that I’m interested in on the Web is data that was put there by people.  And I see that data really has footprints, like digital footprints that people left behind that gives some indication of what they were doing, what they were feeling, what they were thinking, who they are as people.  So you can often eke insights out of that data to illuminate the people who left it.  

That was a sort of hypothesis and belief that I held very strongly when I was a little bit younger.  In my early 20s, I was obsessed with data.  I was obsessed with the idea that I could just sit behind a laptop and have an Internet connection and tell you anything you would ever need to know about life and the process of living it.  And that's no longer something I believe.  I think there's this kind of naiveté in that.  And it was interesting because, at the same time as my interest in data started to decline in my kind of mid to late 20s, as I started to see its limitations and that it actually provides relatively superficial insights about things a lot of the time.  

So at the same time as my interest in data was waning, the overall culture's interest in data was becoming incredibly obsessive and almost pornographic with the rise of infographics.  And you see infographics all over the place now.  It seems like every online news outlet wants infographics, and I really think it’s like data porn.  And the problem with data porn and infographics is that if the underlying data is not beautiful and interesting, any kind of aesthetic fanciness you apply to that data will not help.  It’s like taking a really, really boring person and having them wear designer clothing and like lots of makeup, but they’re still like a really boring person.  So I think a similar thing is true with data and a huge percentage of the data art in infographics that get output into the world nowadays I think are really boring and they give you very superficial insights about things.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

Why I Don't Find 'Data Porn...

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