What do I do with all this stuff?
I’ve just finished reading a book called Snoop, which explores how we can learn a great deal about people from the spaces they inhabit and the residue we all leave behind in daily life. It’s a good read, drawing on academic research that has shown how our bedrooms and offices can actually tell us more about our personality than job interviews, CVs and other more traditional ways of evaluating personality. Even our ipod playlists (and particularly the tracks most played!) and our Facebook profiles can provide a wealth of information about who we really are.
As ever with these sorts of books (behavioural economics, randomness, viral marketing and every other social psychology book I seem to be drawn to), it’s left me interested but somewhat confused….Okay, that’s really interesting, but what do I do with it? How do I make sense of the interesting research/theory/thinking/stories in the world I inhabit?
I thought I’d do a bit of self snooping, starting with a look at my iTunes library. Now I know that some of the tracks on there aren’t mine – honestly, neither the Disney Songbook or Charlie and Lola audio-books are mine – so, displaying my newfound snooping skills, I delved a little deeper. I looked at the most played tracks and the ones that have been rated with four or five stars (in our house I’m the only one obsessive enough to bother!)…and what did I find?
Well, I’m seven times more likely to have a song with the word ‘fear’ in it than the word ‘love’ (does that make me neurotic? Or low on the romantic side?). And more of my favourite songs are from the 1960s and 1980s than the 2000s or the 1990s (am I a traditionalist? Old fashioned? Just old?). Fascinating, eh? Well, no, not really. In fact, it’s close to useless, even for someone as interested in me as I am.
And that’s the challenge we face in making sense of the vast amount of data which bombard us routinely every day – and which has exploded with the use of the Internet and twitter and all sorts of other 24-hour-constant-information.
The government is committed to making the data it holds open and available to the public in the interests of transparency. Who could be opposed to transparency, right? (ermmm, i’d like opaqueness please!?!?). But the trouble is, unless we have the tools, skills, experience (and desire) to collate, analyse and interpret the data, it’s next to useless, unless we want to do a Phd in social geography. And I don’t.
The Treasury recently asked the public to contribute ideas on ways that they could reduce the public deficit….and people did contribute, thousands of them. So many ideas were posted, that when they asked people to vote on the ideas it was almost impossible to trawl through the ideas to make sense of them, never mind vote. Transparency isn’t necessarily empowering.
Open data is a great idea, but only if it’s accompanied by the right tools to enable citizens to make sense of the data. That’s the real change – not making the data available…but making it useful.
I need a Snoopers’ Handbook, like the books for interpreting dreams that used to be so popular when I was a kid…except, one that actually works!