Is there Strength and Health in Open Data and should you care?
Posted by infokelele on May 22, 2013
Mankind’s path has invariably been shaped by lack of knowledge or more precisely, lack of access to it. Today however, there is an information surplus. Governments at various levels and organizations keep opening their data vaults; sometimes willingly but most of the time under pressure. Technological advancements aid this revolution. In the late 1980s, for instance, only 6% of the world’s data was digital. There was nothing much to share electronically and no widespread medium either for sharing it.
All this has changed in the last decade or so. Dizzying amounts of digital information clog our systems and electronic sharing has become almost like second nature. To engage, all you need is a connection and a medium; say a smartphone and you are all set. By some estimates, for instance, 35% of the world’s photos end up in Facebook and it only takes a healthy dose of some sense of ‘bragging rights’ to go on a visual online display of self and ‘exploits’. And there is yet another kicker! The awareness of human interconnectedness has shrunk considerably, so studies tell us. In the 60s, there was a whole 6 degrees of separation, for instance. Today it is only 4, i.e. a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of that friend.
This data avalanche and the connections that it makes possible are both forward looking and history primed. The future may not be adequately known but the past is well documented. Even the Internet, young as it is, already has an archive that includes millions of books, audio recordings as well as TV news programs all available at your fingertips.
Having access to all this data is great but on its own does not amount to anything. Far more important is how beneficial this access can be made! If the access does not enable gaining new insights into the world – how businesses can be created, enabled to compete more smartly and made more productive, how governments can serve their citizens better, how citizens can hold their governments accountable and how individuals can improve the quality of their lives, then of what use would this access be?
The good news is that the benefits are already being tapped. Big data has infact become more transformative than even the Internet. Data transparency for instance, amplified by Facebook and Twitter has led to earth shaking mass movements across the globe with unprecedented political consequences, for better or for worse.
However, these positive outcomes also come clothed with negative under currents. Where there is potential for personal empowerment and emancipation, for instance, threats to personal privacy remain ever present. So while easy access to the right data gives consumers a better chance of making better purchasing decisions and organizations and governments a chance to operate more efficiently, corporations and governments can also frighteningly know more about you far more that would rattle you, say where you live, go, how frequently, what you buy, what you say and to whom, what you feel and even believe. So even as governments and corporations open up data, data privacy and data protection concerns remain valid and ought to be addressed concurrently.
With all these said, it doesn’t seem that a forward looking world can afford to close its eyes to the ongoing data revolution or can it?