What’s the Point?

31 January, 2021

Sometimes, you run into an article or essay that strikes a chord with you. Sometimes, you run into one that leaves you shaking your head.

In the latter category is an article published in August of 2014 about a man who quantified all of the communications he had during 2013. Yes, all of them. Email, SMS, postal mail. And his in-person conversations. He:

pulled out his phone and tracked the occurrence, measuring the conversation’s length, where it occurred, and, most bogglingly, all the subjects discussed.

Like what? How about:

But I really have to ask What was the point?

By analyzing all of the data that he collected, will he have better or more efficient and effective conversations in the future? Will he grow closer to others? Will he focus more on one channel of communication? Will he deepen his in-person conversations? Will he pull out pithy nuggets that he can use again, in some other form?

I can’t see any of that happening.

What do those numbers that he derived mean in practical terms? I don’t think the data that he collected and recorded can quantify the quality of the interactions that he had. I’ve had long conversations with people, conversations that led to nothing. But those conversations were enjoyable because I was communicating with interesting people who I liked and with whom I was at ease. I didn’t come to any profound conclusion about the ethical structure of the universe, but I felt better after having had those conversations.

In practical terms, was all the time and effort that he spent collecting and collating and analyzing and visualizing that data worth it? Or could that time and effort have been channelled into something else that could potentially be more worthwhile?

Data can be useful. But it’s not the be all, end all. So much lies beneath data that even best analysis and mining tools can’t come close to touching it. What lies beneath is the human factor.

Do you want to live a better life? Then focus on your life. Do things. Make changes. Live. Don’t become a slave to data. Don’t expect the data to provide you with some truth or path. That lies within you.

Scott Nesbitt