Information Deprivation in the Age of Data
For thirty minutes Monday night, when a federal statute prevented me from accessing information I wanted, I raged.
Then I had empathy.
There was an election in Canada. The federal statute is an Elections Canada law that prohibits anybody from transmitting results to regions of the country where the polls are still open. That includes all broadcasters and applies to online. For 30 minutes, between 9:30pm EST, when the polls closed in Ontario, and 10:00pm EST, when the polls finally closed in BC, I relied solely on twitter and a dashboard on CBC TV. It was horrible.
That screencap shows a dashboard, populated with data from later on in the evening. You could see the seat totals for parliament, and they’d cycle through a bunch of ridings at the bottom of the screen. Even more maddening was that I knew of 4 independents who had a shot at winning and Elizabeth May. The ‘Other’ column was of reduced utility.
For thirty minutes, I knew the NDP was surging. I couldn’t tell where, though, the color commentary indicated that it was happening in Quebec. But how was Montreal doing? And by how much? The commentary was of reduced utility to me, but of course, I’m not their audience.
I had a very specific set of questions, and no means to access the data.
That’s the first time I’ve probably ever written those words. I’m accustomed to near-instant access to information. How’s the site doing? Log in. How’s this new navigation working out? Log in and watch a few people use it in real time (yes, that happens). Who are my best customers? I have a very rapid method for that and a syntax written out. Data may fool me with randomness, but I have methods for estimating when I’m getting tricked. And if I can’t find out online, I can pick up a phone and use the network.
I’ve become used to finding out anything I want to know. My behavior is a direct product of technology and education. And it causes a pause.
After 10pm, the CBC did have one of the best interactive mapping applications among the broadcasters, and I used it to tweet real time analysis from my laptop throughout the evening.
It provided a very good amount contextual data, and reloaded automatically in 10 second increments. It was a great experience, of course I’m biased though. I prefer to consume data through a map and a table. That requires a high degree of geographic knowledge which I just expect everybody to have, and a moderate degree of numeracy.
In a large way, I’m motivated to create products that enable people to see the world the way I do. Empower people to find novel findings and they’ll find it.
Information Deprivation is horrible and it should be cured.