A recent episode of the TED Radio Hour on NPR made my three mile jog feel like one.
The topic was data analysis, which may sound like a major yawner, but it wasn’t.
In his book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Kenneth Cukier talks about how information is gathered and distributed in ways never thought possible in previous generations.
The first major information revolution came with the invention of the printing press around 1440. Johannes Gutenberg’s contribution was a game changer. Literacy increased, and most notably, the Bible was made affordable and accessible to lay people.
Not that there wasn’t push back.
The religious establishment, for one, found it much easier to control people who were uniformed. But information is a good thing no matter how much we fear it.
The truth will set you free, Jesus said.
All of us benefit from the cutting edge technology that collects information. The possibilities in the medical field alone are mind-boggling. Without being too graphic, Cukier anticipates a toilet bowl that will be able to collect waste matter and daily track our cells to detect disease long before it becomes dangerous.
However, as with all things, we humanoids have the amazing ability to turn any good thing into a problem.
I was at a party recently and chatted with a cyber security expert, and nothing he said about how our personal information is collected and potentially used was very comforting. In fact, we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re living under the radar.
For years I’ve told my kids they should just assume they’re being watched by surveillance cameras wherever they are. Sure it’s invasive, but the camera can defend you if you’re making good choices.
It’s a security issue too, though time consuming. And it might be a good idea for people who want complete privacy in their bedrooms to place their cell phones in their drawer.
It’s kind of creepy and a little unnerving to think that Google, Facebook, and GPS information goes directly into the hands of marketers who plan their strategies accordingly. But that’s not the worst thing. Far more frightening is our information falling into the hands of those who want to target more than our choice of food and beverage.
Data analyst Susan Etlinger shared the story of her two-year-old son being tested and diagnosed with autism. According to the metrics, his communication skills put him at the level of a nine-month-old. But about a year and a half later, she caught him on the computer typing words into the search engine. They were spelled incorrectly, but by hitting the “back” button she was able to see his train of thought.
“He was teaching himself to communicate, but we were looking in the wrong place” Etlinger said. This is what happens when data is focused on one metric without being informed by another. Data requires context.
In college we were taught that when dealing with wisdom literature, philosophical texts, and biblical interpretation, context is everything. Hermeneutics, which is fancy-talk for interpretation, teaches us to avoid a lot of confusion by asking a few simple questions of any manuscript, such as…who wrote it, who were they writing to, what did it mean to them, and what does it mean to us.
The religious establishment of Gutenberg’s day feared the can of worms he was opening. And open the can he did. But if there is a God who has chosen to communicate truth that transcends time and culture, I’d defend everyone’s right to discover it for themselves.
It’s not that we lack information. It’s what we do with it that matters.
The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them (Psalm 25: 14).
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Look for Permission to Doubt. Published by Kregel