Don't analyze this, not all data is a big deal

Searchlight looks at putting the brakes on over-collecting data, why Quicken Loans will win March Madness, Google's research methods and more.

Here it comes again, datamania. It seemed the trend was trailing off after peaking last summer with the viral story of the data-loving mom who tracked her baby's every, uh, movement. But I suppose it makes sense with the recent surge in wearable technology that the need to analyze this, and this and this is having another moment.

As in today's lead Searchlight item, in which Mashable writer Jeremy Knoblauch tells of his 30-day adventure in lifelogging. Cringe. Simply reading the words quantifiable self on the screen brought a sigh and furrowed brow. It's so Oprah-y, this tech-enabled navel-gazing -- these confessional babblings -- in the guise of data collection and analysis.

Karen GoulartKaren Goulart

Too harsh? Beyond utilizing fun new gadgetry, maybe the love affair with the quantifiable self has something to do with needing to take control. Perhaps, tired of the NSAs, Targets and all the other connected entities that are scooping, hoarding and manipulating our information for their own gain (and you know, the occasional coupon), we desire to take the reins of the really personal stuff. What we eat, when we sleep, how often we get our butts off the couch. Of course, the fact that this tracking is being tracked by said entities above makes that desire seem even sadder.

Then I got to this, from Knoblauch's go-to data-crunching guru Nicholas Felton: "I think what's missing is a service that leverages the personal value of this data so that people feel like there's a reason for keeping track of themselves."

A reason for keeping track of themselves. Did he really say that?

My suggestion for this it's-spring-but-it-still-feels-like-winter ennui? Analyze this: If you want to have fun with data, mess around with a March Madness bracket, join a fantasy baseball league or heck, do both over at FiveThirtyEight. Just because we can quantify everything doesn't mean we should. If you want answers about yourself, it's going to take a lot more than some sensors wrapped in plastic on your wrist.

The important answers never come easy. Just ask Andrei Linde. If that name doesn't quite ring a bell, he's the Stanford physicist who learned this week that after 30 years of work as one of the pioneers of the Inflation theory -- that the universe expanded very rapidly just after it was born in the Big Bang -- the theory was proved true by a team of scientists operating a highly sensitive microwave telescope at the South Pole.

Check out SearchCIO's own coverage of these topics

Wearable technology is all about the work

A data analytics strategy for boosting both efficiency and revenue

Talking big data ethics

And while this isn't on Searchlight's list, it's my favorite story of the week. Thanks to the Publisher's Clearinghouse-esque video of Linde and his wife receiving the news, we all got a little glimpse of what it looks like when a lifetime of work is validated. It's something to see.

"This is a moment of understanding of nature of such a magnitude that it just overwhelms," Linde said. "Let us hope it is not a trick. I always live with this feeling. What if I am tricked? What if I believe in this just because it is beautiful? What if…"

That's the somewhat troubling, yet wonderful thing about science and technology. There's always a "what if." The search for answers goes on and on. In finding them, we're limited only by imagination, which is just a long way of saying we are limitless.

Starting next week, Searchlight will be turned over to the fully capable staff at SearchCIO, as I move on to other interfaces. It's been a pleasure cataloging a tiny blip in our technological evolution for you. Keep up the good work, CIOs. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

  • Is there such a thing as too much information when you're simply talking to yourself? Yes, yes there is, and here's the proof.
  • Oh, by the way -- the wearable technology era is starting now. Turns out everything you've heard up 'til now was just one long drumroll.
  • Why the Warren Buffet-Quicken Loans billion-dollar March Madness bracket will be worth a fortune -- to Quicken Loans. Even if someone wins. (Which no one will.)
  • This is the true story of several colleagues, hired to work at an analytics firm, and have their lives tracked by their employer through wearables -- or be fired. Hmm, doesn't quite sound as fun as The Real World.
  • An algorithm created by a Los Angeles Times reporter gives new meaning to "this story practically writes itself!" by allowing a story to literally write itself. And here I thought HuffPo was the biggest threat to journalism.
  • Research labs? Google don't need no stinking labs.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

This was last published in March 2014

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Karen Goulart asks:

What's a better use of time? Watching 'Analyze This' or analyzing your breakfast habits?

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