Data dumps aren’t the sole province of whistle blowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. In the name of transparency, our government unloads reams of data on a regular basis, so much so, that the search for specific information is like a forced to march though the dessert in hope of spotting a vital grain of sand. Data lies everywhere but without a map, finding required information is near to impossible.
I speak from experience, having plowed through segments of the Environmental Protection Agency’s report on fracking with the intent of learning about its impact on drinking water. (Blog 4/28/16) I lost considerable time in my effort, but worse, having stumbled upon a relevant page, it disappeared when I hit an errant key. Eventually, I called my computer guru for help. Though I was paying for his time, I took perverse pleasure in seeing the difficulty he faced while sorting through the material. As Paul Ford writes in, “Untangling the Data Knot,” unlike information on the web, bulk data are too often locked in MP3s and PDFs that make searches difficult. (New Republic, May 2016, pg. 4) Despite claims of transparency, governments or agencies that dump massive amounts of information onto the internet are, in fact, burying it.
Only institutions of size, as Ford points out, have the equipment, staff or “the time to unpack the schemata that define a given file and turn it into something usable and newsworthy.” (Ibid g. 5.) That means the media has had a new role thrust upon it. No longer purveyors of news, they are charged with sifting through mountains of facts to find the pertinent ones. Given the institution’s commercial bent to entertain as much as to inform, (Blog 3/23/16) we must ask if it’s wise for us to become beholden to them as the sole source of our knowledge.
In a democratic society, data should be accessible to everyone and in a manner that is understandable and usable. To depend upon the commercial filters is unhealthy. Everyone with a computer or a smart phone should be able to wander through the ever darkening forest of information with a map. We need a computer genius who will do for the data dump what Bill Gates and his friends did for the internet. Make the information accessible.