Just before Valentine's Day, I had the good fortune to attend one of Thornton May's Value Studio 45 workshops in St. Augustine. The focus of the conference, with an opening presentation by Gerry McCartney, was "What's the Big Deal About Big Data?" Typically when I travel with Gerry, I wander around visiting nearby historical houses and art museums, but this time I had my own lanyard and identification badge -- "Literary Blogger" -- and attended every session.
As a warm - up exercise, Thornton asked each table to write a few sentences containing the word data. Our group went first, and as each sentence was read aloud, an impromptu data poem began to take shape, beginning and ending with a reference to everyone's favorite near - human android:
Data is my favorite character on Star Trek.
Data is the new bacon.
What can I make the data do for me and my company?
We need more than data divas;
we need curators across the enterprise / curriculum.
If you're not using data, you're not going to last.
My data will call your data.
Data About Data
Data Search = A Meeting With Google
Data is the lifeblood of everything.
Data can be real, perceived, or fake.
Crime has a lot of data.
Failure to trust data leads to error - prone human override.
Decisions require correct data points.
Avoid incorrect assumptions about data.
Do not ignore data that contradict preconceived notions.
Will Big Data go away like TQM?
Data can tell you where your assets are located.
Valuable Data Point: crunch it up and eat it;
internalize, digest, embody.
If you want your data to matter,
your data people have to matter too.
Data is more than just a way of validating
existing plans and assumptions.
Data has a a story to tell.
Are you willing to listen?
Are you able to act?
Table one stole our Data Sentence!
from Laurentius de Voltolina, 1350s
Gerry entertained the crowd with slides of a classroom from the past and an office from the future. You'll notice that the classroom of today is little changed from what we see here 665 years ago: a lecture delivered from a front podium to rows of students, some alert but others whispering, chatting, sleeping, gawking aimlessly, daydreaming!
The mid - century office from a long - ago future catches the fashion but misses the fundamentals. The streamlined, aerodynamic look of 1947 may seem silly and non - functional to us; yet, how could those fanciful designers of 70 years ago have foreseen our cell phones and laptops?
Gerry's discussion of how 21st century technology has infused the workplace and the classroom environment was followed by presentations on a lively range of topics, from "DNA Cybersecurity to The Five Languages of Love; from "Data in Food Service" (the business of selling an experience and creating a memory) to "Data & Golf" (predictive data applied in the immediate moment); from a brief history of the ATM banking in Las Vegas to the constant concern of "Data Protection" -- reminding me of the time a few years ago when we got a call inquiring if we were cool with paying $5000 for some dresses in Paris! My first question -- are they my size? Alas, we declined the purchase! Now, how did someone in Paris get our credit card number? You'd be surprised!
Coincidentally, I had just been reading about DNA -- not the technological kind but the biological kind -- in the book that I had brought along for airplane reading: The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead by contemporary American novelist and essayist David Shields. In a meandering combination of autobiography, biography, statistics, and favorite quotations, Shields describes the biological, practical, and existential nature of the human genome as a massive data storage and retrieval system:
The body is, for all intents and purposes, the host, and the reproductive system is the parasite that brings the body to its death.
As the biologist E. O. Wilson says, "In a Darwinian sense, the organism does not live for itself. It's primary function is not even to reproduce other organisms; it reproduces genes and it serves as their temporary carrier. . . . the organism is only DNA's way of making more DNA.
. . . According to Luc Bussiere . . . "For humans, this might seem counterpoductive because we don't want to die young. We want live long lives. But for animals [yes, including humans!] the goal isn't living longer; it's to reproduce." The survival instinct and the reproductive instinct are opposed.
. . . You can't choose not to have children and thereby gain extra years of life by redirecting your resources for reproduction into efforts at self - maintenance. Your genes make you disposable but have not left you the flexibility to choose to live a longer life by not propagating them.
A mortal animal is a germ cell's way of making more germ cells, thereby optimizing the likelihood that they fuse with germ cells of the opposite sex. The continuation of the germ line is the driving force of natural selection; longevity of individual animals is of secondary importance. Animals are selected through evolution for having physiological reserves greater than the minimum necessary to reach sexual maturation and rear progeny to independence, but once this goal has been accomplished, they have sufficient excess reserve capacity to coast for a period of time, the remainder of which is called your life span. . . . There's really only one immutable biological law, it has only two imperatives, and it gets stated in dozens of ways: spawn and die. (124 - 128)
. . . as Michel Houellebecq writes . . . "chromosomal separation . . . is in itself a source of structural instability. In other words, all species dependent on sexual reproduction are by definition mortal." (206)
As soon as your reproductive role has been accomplished, you're disposable . . . nature has little interest in what happens next . . . physiological resources go into reproduction, not into prolonging life thereafter . . . The individual doesn't matter . . . We're vectors on the grids of cellular life . . . Aging followed by death is the price we pay for the immortality of our genes. You find this information soul - killing; I find it thrilling, liberating. Life, in my view, is simple, tragic, and eerily beautiful. (211 - 213)
~ David Shields ~
"Data has a a story to tell.
Are you willing to listen?
Are you able to act?"
In conclusion, many thanks to Gerry
for bringing me along and to
~ Thurgood, Thurman, Thurston, Thornton ~
for inviting us to Studio 45!
[Can you tell that I've moved on from David Shields
to Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita?
More on that next time!
Posting late due to distraction of the high seas . . .
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, February 28th
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