Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hello again...

Article describing Evernote :
"These notes are never lost. They can be accessed easily on your phone, your tablet, your PC. It's designed to make you more efficient., better prepared, ready for anything. 
"We're really trying to make it a second brain," Libin [Phil Libin, chief executive of Evernote] says. "We want Evernote to feel like it's helping you to complete your thoughts, to feel like it's making you smarter." 
This "backup brain" has taken off. Recently, Evernote announced that it has 65 million users worldwide [...] Libin wants more, many more, users. He wants every person on the planet to use the system. He's serious."
From article: Meet the man who created a second brain
by Murad Ahmed
The Times, October 19 2013

"As a society, we are continually measuring and being measured. Counting is a defence against the uncertain or unexpected – a deterrent against another economic crash, perhaps, or a forewarning of social unrest. It is a way of keeping step with a social landscape that is not only changing fast but whose very idea of fast is perpetually outpacing itself.

"[...] After all, most people have a faith in numbers that exceeds their faith in words. Data journalism is often held to tell a truer story.

This trust in numbers may help to explain why the language used to talk about data has been naturalised. It gets scattered and harvested, gathered, cut and cleaned. Professor Luciano Floridi (Hertfordshire and Oxford), author of The Philosophy of Information, says there is an area of research that looks at information gathering as "information foraging", as if data really were the good of the land, freely available and nutritious to anyone who knows where to look (such as Twitter and Google Trends, which the ONS now tracks in order to supplement and counter-check its own reckonings). "We are no longer journeying round this strange tropical place known as cybersphere," Floridi says. "In the 90s the metaphor was the frontier – surfing, exploring. It was all about seeing the web as a geographical space, not a personal space. Because we are settling down, biological metaphors become more natural. We are natives here now."
At the ONS's sprawling cellular base camp in Newport, the corridors are long and all the doors bear long numbers, a decimalised warren. There is a number for everything here. In the Life Events – Mortality Analysis department a book, two inches thick, lists the code for every kind of demise – W27 means death by contact with a nonpowered handtool, L60.0 is an ingrowing nail, T63.4 a bite by a centipede, and so on. From birth to death, our lives are codified, digitised. Why?

"Data helps you make sense of a really complicated world. It helps you understand what's really going on, and separate that from anecdote, from spin, from misinformation," says Glen Watson, director general of the ONS. As he sees it, British lives are built upon the work of the ONS. The thickness of water pipes that deliver your morning shower; the arrangement of roads that take you where you are going; the location of schools, offices, supermarkets; the stock on supermarket shelves. His faith in the ONS is personal as well as professional. "I might – touch wood I haven't been – at some point in my life I might be diagnosed with cancer," he says. "The first thing I'd want to know, I'd go straight to the ONS page on cancer survival rates. We publish all of that." When he talks about data, he cups his hands as if he has caught a butterfly.
In the Labour Force Survey (LFS) office, an analyst is looking at the latest figures on a spreadsheet. Row upon row of digits fill the screen. Each row is a person. Each column is their answer to a question. There are 76 columns, but they would go on for ever if you wanted them to. "You can't fall off the edge of the world here," says the analyst, Mark Chandler. Whatever an interviewee's answer, there is a code for it. Person 1 has given the answer 31 to a question, which means they are retired from paid work. Someone else is a 2: self-employed. Here's a "25" – not in work, looking after their family or home.
[...]One operator is wrestling with the fact that a man doesn't know his daughter's qualifications. A woman on another line is saying: "She's dead, my lovely." In Bournemouth, Liverpool, Skelmersdale, answerphones are clicking in. Another operator is trying to find out if a woman is looking for work. "It's a difficult question, because if the job is rewarding I would like to work," the woman says. So is that a yes or a no? "A no," she decides, because no one should have to work until they are 70. "It has been known to find people dead on the toilet at work when they're 65," she says. There is no box for that.

It is a funnelling process, a sifting through a lifetime of all that's made a person the person they are, shaking out every irrelevance, until the only thing left in the sieve is an affirmative or negative. To listen in to those conversations, and subsequently to see fragments of them pop up in an enormous grid of numbers, is a bit like witnessing people being fed into a giant Hadron Collider: lives churned and turned into statistics, a great big crunching and mashing (to use a favourite word of data analysts), a sort of digital dismemberment. You half-expect to hear screams, see a pool cue fly out and some veg on a tea towel, the spectre of a dead person on a toilet. And what is this great collider creating? What is the output of these weeks of combing streets and dialling numbers in search of co-operative people, and the subsequent weeks of chopping and reading the information they give?

The analysts have a printout showing employment. "It's going to add a dot here," says Chandler. He points to a space beyond the last little sphere in the sequence. This is where the new speck will go, small as a particle, vast as a miniaturised planet. And then, of course, the dot will be cut in myriad ways and replotted, scattering new solar systems across countless graphs. "It sounds a bit creepy. A bit Orwellian, when you put it like that," says Sturgis. "But of course these are anonymous answers. We are not interested in individual cases. What we are doing is making a map."

Excerpt form a frighteningly relevant article: Stats of the nation: how the state measures our lives

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