Friday, August 7, 2009

Environmental Citizenship as Sense-Making

Thursday's NYT had a piece on the hot job prospects for statisticians, consequence of escalating computing capacity. It included the following intriguing quote:
“We’re rapidly entering a world where everything can be monitored and measured,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Digital Business. “But the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data.”
In other words, we can generate cascades of data tracking changes in everything: what we don't know is what to make of it. The new statisticians can refine algorithms to search for hidden patterns, to discern occult correlations and intricate loopings. But without the capacity to grasp what we're monitoring, and why, the data streams remain tantalizing and opaque.

The openness to inputs from a variety of sources needs to be complemented by a repertoire of patterns, a metaphoric toolbox for arranging and organizing data. Let's call the work of using those tools environmental citizenship.

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