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Technology has brought us so much: the moon landing, the Internet, the ability to sequence the human genome. But it also taps into a lot of our deepest fears, and about 30 years ago, the culture critic Neil Postman wrote a book called "Amusing Ourselves to Death," which lays this out really brilliantly. And here's what he said, comparing the dystopian visions of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. He said, Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us, and Huxley feared we would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. In a nutshell, it's a choice between Big Brother watching you and you watching Big Brother. (Laughter)
But it doesn't have to be this way. We are not passive consumers of data and technology. We shape the role it plays in our lives and the way we make meaning from it, but to do that, we have to pay as much attention to how we think as how we code. We have to ask questions, and hard questions, to move past counting things to understanding them. We're constantly bombarded with stories about how much data there is in the world, but when it comes to big data and the challenges of interpreting it, size isn't everything. There's also the speed at which it moves, and the many varieties of data types, and here are just a few examples: images, text, video, audio. And what unites this disparate types of data is that they're created by people and they require context.
Now, there's a group of data scientists out of the University of Illinois-Chicago, and they're called the Health Media Collaboratory, and they've been working with the Centers for Disease Control to better understand how people talk about quitting smoking, how they talk about electronic cigarettes, and what they can do collectively to help them quit. The interesting thing is, if you want to understand how people talk about smoking, first you have to understand what they mean when they say "smoking." And on Twitter, there are four main categories: number one, smoking cigarettes; number two, smoking marijuana; number three, smoking ribs; and number four, smoking hot women. (Laughter)
So then you have to think about, well, how do people talk about electronic cigarettes? And there are so many different ways that people do this, and you can see from the slide it's a complex kind of a query. And what it reminds us is that language is created by people, and people are messy and we're complex and we use metaphors and slang and jargon and we do this 24/7 in many, many languages, and then as soon as we figure it out, we change it up.
Kaynak/Source: TED Talks, Susan Etlinger; "What do de do with all this big data?" Transkript