It is days like this that remind me of my complex relationship with data. I spent my entire work day wrestling with data, and some of my time at home doing the same thing in a different way. None of this is unusual. To be sure, there were aspects about my day that were unusual by my standards, but the general patterns are consistent based on my life and the ends to which I turn my complicated mind. I would like to discuss some of the twists and turns of that mind as they relate to data, and while I am aware that the subject is not one that probably interests many people, I hope that it will at least make my own ways a bit more plain, and hopefully provide at least some food for thought for others whose relationship with data is far more distant than my own.
After a little more than two hours of my usual morning data project, I spent an hour as the lead speaker on our side of a conference call with a company. I must say, being a presenter on a conference call when there are executives listening (mostly silently) can be quite heady. Having to speak about company matters, including the statistics that the executives wanted, and where the information for it could be found, was quite a delicate task for someone as plainspoken as myself. As is often the case in my life, the fact that all of the other people on the call were silent was something I did not know how to fully interpret, whether it was a sign of confidence that I knew what I was talking about and didn’t need any correction or help and didn’t say anything out of bounds, or whether it was as more ominous silence. Since I got no hostile or corrective visits or e-mails afterwards, I assume (in the absence of any evidence to the contrary), that my occasionally witty comments were not bothersome.
After this lengthy and successful chat, I went back to my reports, and had a lot of of requests for data of one kind or another, as tends to happen during the course of a day. I timed my lunch in such a way that I was able to spend a couple hours watching a course on how to handle the new data management program we are working with, the first of three classes I am supposed to take. When it comes to tools that make my task of presenting data more easily and accurately, I am definitely interested in helping make my life easier and help provide others with the sort of information they are looking for. I even managed to solve a data problem that has been vexing me for a while, using a key field in one report to draw information I was looking for from another report to fill a gap in data that I was concerned about, and that could help inform others about the reasons for some of the consistent patterns I see and puzzle over in my data.
I like to use data to solve problems. I see if people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, I like to see what patterns reveal themselves in the data. Yet sometimes it is easy to draw conclusions about people one does not know from the data one sees and to be dismissive about them. How to use data as a way to make life easier on others, how to solve problems, and how to see areas of need where encouragement and assistance is beneficial is a less straightforward task. I suppose like any other useful tool, data itself is not good or evil, but it can be used for good or evil ends. People can use their knowledge of and access to data to hunt actresses who happen to be gamers, and to make them live in fear that their privacy will be exposed. Such monstrous behavior ought not to be considered, as it is these fears which tend to make people suspicious of data collection to begin with. On the other hand, let us use data as a way of finding out areas that need improvement in our lives and in the lives of others, to give us the information we need to act in service and love towards others, so that data can be a tool for making the corners of the world we live in a better place, which in turn would cause the numbers we see to improve. At least, that is what we ought to hope for and desire.