Big Data 30 September 2022

Why Everyone Should Be Data Literate

How do we decipher between what is true and what is not despite not being data scientists? How can we use information to make better decisions? Data literacy opens our eyes and enables us to succeed in the digital revolution.

How many of us have been watching the news, and a story comes on, and we get captivated by it, and then we start asking questions such as, “Are this data and information correct?” Or how many of us have been in check-out stand, looking at the newspapers and magazines? And for those that don't know what a newspaper is, it's printed word, not on social media. But how many times have we been in that check-out stand and said, no, that can’t be real? How many of us have been on social media, and we see these viral stories that go around that make us think or worry, and then we find out that it’s a hoax?

The world we live in today is producing so much instant access to information. How do we decipher through it all? And not only decipher through it all: How do we take it to make a smart, informed decision? Now what if I told you that there is legitimately a skill in the world that everyone can learn - and not just learn, but get good at, that will empower us to understand data and information better, and then to make a data-informed decision? Sounds too good to be true? I promise it's not. It is real, and it is accessible to everybody. And this skill is data literacy.

Before I jump into exactly what data literacy is, I want to set this foundation for us more, so we understand the era and the world that we live in with technology and information. Now the time in which we live has been called the 4th industrial revolution. What in the world does this mean? It means a digital world, and I think all of us can agree that we live in a very digital world. In fact, it is very hard- pressed to find people who don't have a computer in their pocket now in a smartphone. To help paint this picture even better, I'm going to go through a few examples with you just to show you how connected we are, and how much information is being produced. The first example: Did you know that nowadays you need a refrigerator that has a touchscreen on it? And not just has a touchscreen, but it can play a YouTube video for you, and it can tell you the weather. These things exist. Did you know that you need it? Now, in full disclosure, guess who has one of those. Second: Did you know that you need a dishwasher that connects to your internet? Because I can't think of anything I have ever wanted more when I am at a movie theater than to know when my dishwashing cycle is complete. Did you know you need that? Third: Did you know that it’s becoming way too difficult to turn a knob to turn your shower on? That now you can download an app that can turn the water on -by golly- set it to the exact temperature that you want. Not only that, but you can have a touchscreen in your shower, and that mixture of electricity and water. Did you know you need that?

The reality is everything is being connected. And not just connected. Guess what that produces for us? Data and information. Now data has been called the new oil, but I think we need to take a step back from that statement to understand it better. Data is asset, but just like oil, it must go through people and refinement to get value. This is data literacy. Now, by definition, data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data. Four skills that reside across a spectrum. Notice what I did not say: Data literacy is not data science. Not everyone in this world needs to be a data scientist, but everyone needs to be comfortable with data to be able to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution. So, let's dive through these four skills to help us understand them better. And to do that we are going to imagine that we all are buying a refrigerator. Now the principals I am about to teach and talk through apply not only in a personal life; they apply in the public sector; they apply in business, and they apply in society.

The first characteristic is the ability to read data. Now imagine that we are going to a store, and we are looking at these refrigerators, and we have no clue which one is going to fit our world the best. So, the first step is we are going to read the information and data that is provided to us, and if you were go to Google the word “to read” it means to look at something and comprehend it. So, when we walk into the store and there are 30 refrigerators all over, hopefully some without a touchscreen, we can read the information that is given to us and comprehend it to make a smarter decision. Reading data is one of the most powerful things that can free up our minds in the fourth industrial revolution. If you think back hundreds of years, did you know it could be a criminal act to be able to read? In no way am I saying it will be a criminal act to be able to read data, but just like it did hundreds of years ago with all this information around us, the ability to read it and comprehend it is a key skill. So back to our refrigerators.

We move along and we get to the second characteristic of data literacy. This is the ability to work with data. Now one might ask themselves, “Does this mean I have to get good at computer science and statistics to work with data? The answer is no. It means being comfortable with information when it is presented to you. If we think of those viral stories that go around and they make us uncomfortable, we become relieved when we find out it’s a hoax. Working and reading with data allows us to determine it's a hoax before we have to find out. So, when we were buying this refrigerator and each refrigerator has an information sheet, we are comfortable taking that and consuming it.

 To move along the third characteristic of the data literacy definition, and that means to analyze data. Now what analyzing data does is that it gets to the “why?” behind it. I often say we want to move beyond an observation and get to the insight. When a story is going around on social media, most of the time, we are making an observation of the information presented to us. In the case of a refrigerator, we walk into a store, see 30 refrigerator and maybe five of them catch our attention. We made an observation. We then need to analyze the information about those five refrigerators so that we can take it in and find the insight that will lead to a smarter decision. Analyzing also means being comfortable asking questions. That's not something that happens too often with social media in our day and age. We should be questioning everything.

The 4th piece of the pie is arguing with data. Now, a little side note, I'm not encouraging you to go argue with the salesperson as you try and pick your refrigerator. Arguing with data means two things. One: Interrogate the information as it is presented to you. Ask a lot of questions of the salesperson. Interrogate what they are giving you. The second side of arguing with data and information is this ability to put a position forward and back it up with information. So, put yourself in my shoes. Let's say my wife and I are remodeling and picking out this fridge. We agree on absolutely everything. No, we each have our position, and then we argue it and back it up with facts and data to arrive at the best refrigerator for us.

Four characteristics: Reading, working with, analyzing, and arguing with data empower us as individuals to make sense of all the information that it is out there, and then to make decisions with it. Now, I am asked often, “How do I start? What do I do?” “Do I need to go back to school and get good at statistics?” “Do I need to learn how to code?” Now, I understand greatly not everyone is as big a nerd as myself. Not everyone wants to read a statistics textbook. I promise you I do. So, what do you do to start? I have coined a phrase that I use called the two Cs of data literacy.”

The first C is I want you to become curious. I have five children. Guess how many questions they ask me on a daily basis? And here is the kicker: I never ever want my kids to stop. I watch their brains working through information and data in front of them, to come to answers that I could only dream of making myself. Because, for some reason, when we become adults, our curiosity disappears. Become curious and ask questions of everything. That is the start to powerful data literacy.

The second C of data literacy is creativity. There is a lot of hype and a lot of discussion in the world on what is AI, artificial intelligence, computers, machines going to do to the future. We are already in the fourth industrial revolution. We are already living in a digital world, And I'm here to tell you the most powerful computer that is out of there it's in here; It is in our minds. The human element should never be stripped away from data. It is a combination of those machines of data and artificial intelligence combined with the human element. And remember, those four characteristics are on a spectrum of skills. But the second C of creativity allows us to open up our human mind to something that might seem boring or mundane, but data and information has power. Now overall this world that we are living in truly can be improved in society, in business, and in our on personal lives, as we improve ourselves in reading, working with, analyzing, and arguing with data. If you want to have a foolproof way of succeeding in the future and in this digital world, become data literate.

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