The Dawn of Data as Dusk of Degrees

Currently, we are unable to prove our “hidden” knowledge, things that are learned “along the way” rather than in a certified course or degree program. That needs to—and will—change, perhaps thanks to these innovative start ups.

The Dawn of Data as Dusk of Degrees

Today we are all creating data and do it all the time, with every swipe of a credit card, click of a mouse button or finger tip on a touch screen. With the rise of mobile devices a whole new data set, Geolocation, got into this immense pool of information, yet we, the creators of information are not really profiting from it. Sure, we get a free coffee or burger if we check in to our favorite coffee shop or burger restaurant but that should not be the end of the line.

Information or data when looked at one by one might look trivial but as soon as you zoom out and take a look at a chain of information you will be able to see a pattern. Fast food restaurants are amongst the first to use this trend by rewarding us with a free drink or something else after we checked in to the place three times. They can do so because they collect all their customer’s data, filter it and draw conclusions. They can even go a step further and share (sell) this information with health insurance companies which then are able to draw their own conclusions based on the data obtained e.g. diseases people may get later in life based on the stuff they were eating and therefore cut health benefits, all of which led to a big scandal in Germany a few years ago, but that’s a different story.

Down to the present day many people don’t realize how much they actually share every single day and how it could be beneficial for their careers. As I said, one information or data set alone may be trivial in itself but collected and filtered over several months or years it might actually say a lot and become meaningful.

In today’s society all our knowledge is proven by snapshots taken from and during our educational career. What I mean by that, it’s the tests we took and the exams we sat and hopefully passed. However, knowledge and learning are far more than a test score.

Up to now, no one is able to prove ones “hidden” knowledge, things we learned “along the way”. That needs to change.

Imagine you are an art lover and every spare minute you either read a book, watch a documentary on TV, listen to a podcast on SmartHistory or go to exhibitions. I think it is pretty safe to assume that after some years you have gained a level of knowledge equal if not superior to someone who studied art at college. The difference is that if you decide one day to quit your job and start working for an art gallery or similar, you will most likely have a much harder time getting the job than someone fresh out of college as this person will have a prove in form of a diploma but you have just your knowledge which is not proven according to present day standards in our educational system and even in society. Yes, there are the successful career breakers and people creating their own jobs or niches but these are the shining exceptions and far from a general validity.

Now what if you tracked everything related to your hobby / passion over the years and your employer could take a look at the data, seeing that every single day you worked on the topic? The great and exciting thing is, all that data is already out there. What we have to do is to a) finish with the old mindset seeing data either as something boring or dangerous and b) establish a mindset that values data and what makes people want to have control over their data and to help them collecting it in a meaningful way.

Let’s take a look at three examples based on applications and services most of us use every day.

Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook check-in

Each time you visit a museum, an art gallery, a conference etc and check in the venue this data would become part of your Knowledge Graph. If you became a regular at a particular museum the collected check-ins would prove that you are actively interested in a certain topic or the data could underline a general interest in art or history.

Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Netflix, iTunes, Blippy

Most of us buy books and DVDs online these days. Every book you buy related to art or history should be part of your Knowledge Graph. Same is true for documentaries which we most likely buy or rent on Netflix or iTunes. Additional information could be a rating or review you give. And even if you bought your books in a classic bookstore the data could be tracked via services like Blippy.

YouTube, Big Think, TED, Fora.TV

More and more top shelf educational content is available on the Internet for free. Take lectures from universities on YouTube and iTunes as an example. And even not looking that far, Big Think itself has a great collection of videos on a variety of topics you can learn from. Most video platforms track how long the videos are watched by each user. This information would be a great addition to the Knowledge Graph.

There are of course more possible ways to make sense of education related data. In January I wrote a post on “Why Analytics will become more powerful than High Level Degrees” based on one of the best examples for such a system, the Khan Academy. In an interview with Forbes, Salman Khan said

In ten years, twenty years [from now] I think an employer would rather like to see your log from a site like Khan Academy where it doesn’t get just a 3.2 point GPA in psychology. It gets what you did, when you did it, how well you were able to help your peers, how consistently did you work.

“Well, this guy worked three hours every day for twenty years on this stuff. This is a persistent kind of guy I want working for me.”

And we will be able to give people this kind of analytics. I think that can be a more powerful transcript than just a high level degree right now.

Yesterday Chris Dixon shared the story of one of his friends who got accepted by the MIT without a high school diploma but based on “a pile of code he wrote and sent it to colleges.” Stanford, Berkley and others dismissed his application but got very interested in him when he was ready to start his Master.

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Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
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