Data is everywhere, but what to do with it all. It is clear that data is essential to media and media, essential to data but how so? Data as it exists in its raw form, be it in numbers, percentiles, or even DNA may be able to survive separate from media, but without contextual information, cannot be understood, dissected, interpreted, and used. For instance, the percentile 14% doesn’t mean much on its own. The natural reaction following the presentation of this figure is, “14% of what?” However, when placed within the context of climate change, the percentile 14% represents the amount of Arctic sea ice that has decreased since the 1970s.
(It must be noted that here, I refer to the ‘media’ as not just mass media including news outlets, but as channels through which data is stored and delivered).
Similarly, while media may exist without data, society’s growing reliance on science has meant that data plays a critical role in enhancing the credibility of an idea, argument or . For example, if a newspaper article were to argue for the existence of climate change, it’s credibility would be greatly compromised unless it could provide empirical, scientific evidence as to its effects on the temperature of the earth, the rate of rising sea levels, and the melting of ice caps in the Arctic due to this global warming.
Having understood this data-media dichotomy, I found the layman’s rising fascination with data, not as a means of enhancing credibility of an idea, but as a means of defining an idea in the first place, very interesting. More specifically, Jonah Lehrer’s reflection on Gary Wolf’s idea of the ‘quantified self’ caught my attention.
Society’s obsession with tracking everyday events is reflected in the growing number of smartphone apps catering to this desire. I admit, I have been drawn to this new phenomenon, with personal data not only playing a major role in archiving my private life through the counting of calories and so on, but gradually transforming into social practice. As such, data collated through my phone during my morning runs work as a key, opening me up to a world where I can compare my statistics with friends, thus mediating my social life.
In this way, Gary Wolf perfectly described my life when stating that “… when the familiar pen-and-paper methods of self-analysis are enhanced by sensors that monitor our behaviour automatically, the process of self-tracking becomes both more alluring and more meaningful.”
To this I say: why fight it?