Why everyone should be data literate | Jordan Morrow | TEDxBoise

Translator: L. Lam
Reviewer: Lisa Rodriguez How many of us have ever been watching the news, and a story comes on,
and we get captivated by it, and then we start
asking questions such as, “Is this data and information correct?” Or how many of us have ever been in a check-out stand,
looking at the newspapers and magazines – and for those that don’t know
what a newspaper is, it’s printed word, not on social media – but how many times
have we been in that check-out stand and said, “Nah, that can’t be real?” Or third, turning to social media, how many of us
have ever been on social media and we see these viral stories
that go around that make us think or worry,
kind of like the Momo Challenge, and then we find out that it’s a hoax? The world we live in today is producing so much
instant access to information. How do we decipher through it all? And not only decipher through it all: how do we take it to make
a smart, informed decision? Now what if I told you that there is legitimately
a skill in the world that everyone can learn – and not just learn, but get good at – that will empower us
to understand data and information better and then to make a data-informed decision? Sound too good to be true? I promise it’s not. It is real, and it is
accessible to everybody. And this skill is data literacy. Now before I jump in
to exactly what data literacy is, I want to set this foundation for us more so we understand the era
and the world that we live in with technology and information. Now the time period in which we live has been called
the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Now what in the world
does that actually mean? It means a digital world, and I think all of us can agree
that we live in a very digital world. In fact, it is very hard-pressed to find people who don’t have a computer
in their pocket now, in a smartphone. To help paint this picture even better, I’m going to go through
a few examples with you just to show you how connected we are and how much information
is being produced. The first example: Did you know that nowadays you need a refrigerator
that has a touchscreen on it? (Laughter) And not just has a touchscreen, but it can play a YouTube video for you,
it can tell you the weather. These things exist,
did you know that you need it? Now, in full disclosure,
guess who has one of those? (Laughter) Second: Did you know
that you need a dishwasher that connects to your Internet? Because I can’t think of anything I have ever wanted more
when I’m at a movie theater than to know when my
dish-washing cycle is complete. (Laughter) Did you know you need that? Third: Did you know that it is becoming way too difficult to turn a knob to turn your shower on? (Laughter) That now you can download an app that can turn the water on
and – by golly – set it to the exact temperature
that you want? Not only that, but you can have a touchscreen
in your shower, and that mixture
of electricity and water – (Laughter) Did you know you need that? The reality is,
everything is being connected. And not just connected:
guess what that produces for us? Data and information. Now data has been called the new oil, but I think we need to take
a step back from that statement to understand it better. Data is this valuable asset, but just like oil, it has to go through people
and refinement to get value. This is data literacy. Now by definition, data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data – four skills that reside across a spectrum. Notice what I did not say: data literacy is not data science. Not everyone in this world
needs to be data scientist, but everyone needs to be
comfortable with data to be able to succeed
in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So let’s dive through these four skills to help us understand them better. And to do that, we are going to imagine that we all are buying a refrigerator. Now the principles
I’m about to teach and talk through apply not only in a personal life; they apply in the public sector, they apply in business,
and they apply in society. The first characteristic
is the ability to read data. Now imagine that we are going to a store, and we are looking
at all these refrigerators, and we have no clue which one
is going to fit our world the best. So the first step is we are going to read the information
and data that is provided to us, and if you were to Google
the word “to read”: it means to look at something
and comprehend it. So when we walk into the store
and there are 30 refrigerators all over, hopefully some without a touchscreen, we can read the information
that is given to us, and comprehend it
to make a smarter decision. Reading data is one
of the most powerful things that can free up our minds
in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If you think back hundreds of years, did you know it could be a criminal act to be able to read? In no way am I saying it will be
a criminal act to be able to read data, but just like it did hundreds of years ago
with all of this information around us, the ability to read it
and comprehend it is a key skill. So back to our refrigerators. We move along and we get to the second
characteristic of data literacy. This is the ability to work with data. Now one might ask themselves, “Does this mean I have to get good
at computer science and statistics to work with data?” The answer is no. It means being comfortable
with information when it is presented to you. If we think of those viral stories that go around
and they make us uncomfortable, we become relieved
when we find out it’s a hoax. Working and reading with data allows us to determine it’s a hoax
before we have to find out. So when we’re buying these refrigerators and each refrigerator
has an information sheet, we’re comfortable taking that
and consuming it, to move along to the third characteristic
of the data literacy definition, and that means to analyze data. Now what analyzing data does
is it gets to the “why?” behind it. I often say we want to move beyond
an observation and get to the insight. In reality, when a story
is going around on social media, most of the time, we are making an observation
of the information presented to us. In the case of a refrigerator, we walk into a store, see 30 refrigerators and maybe five of them
catch our attention: we made an observation. We then need to analyze the information
about those five refrigerators so that we can take it in and find the insight
that will lead to a smarter decision. Analyzing also means being
comfortable asking questions. That’s not something
that happens too often with social media in our day and age. We should be questioning everything. The fourth piece of the pie is arguing with data. Now, a little side note, I am not encouraging you
to go argue with the salesperson as you try and pick your refrigerator. Arguing with data means two things. One: interrogate the information
as it is presented to you. Ask a lot of questions of the salesperson, interrogate what they’re giving you. The second side of arguing
with data and information is this ability to put a position forward
and back it up with information. So put yourself in my shoes. Let’s say, my wife and I are remodeling
and picking out this fridge. We agree on absolutely everything. No. (Laughter) We each have our position, and then we argue it
and back it up with facts and data to arrive at the best refrigerator for us. Four characteristics: reading, working with,
analyzing, and arguing with data empower us as individuals to make sense
of all the information that is out there and then to make decisions with it. Now I am asked very often, “How do I start? What do I do?” “Do I need to back to school
and get good at statistics?” “Do I need to learn how to code?” Now I understand greatly,
not everyone is as big a nerd as myself. Not everyone wants to read
a statistics textbook – I promise you I do. So what do you do to start? I’ve coined a phrase that I use
called “The Two Cs of Data Literacy.” The first C is I want you
to become Curious. I have five children. Guess how many questions
they ask me on a daily basis? (Laughter) And here’s the kicker:
I never ever want my kids to stop. I watch their brains working through
information and data in front of them, to come to answers that I could
only dream of making myself. Because for some reason, when we become adults,
our curiosity disappears. Become curious and ask
questions of everything. That is the start
to powerful data literacy. The second C of data literacy is Creativity. There is a lot of hype
and a lot of discussion in the world on what is AI, artificial intelligence,
computers, machines going to do to the future. We’re already in the Fourth
Industrial Revolution. We are already living in a digital world, and I’m here to tell you the most powerful
computer that is out there is in here; it’s in our minds. The human element should never be
stripped away from data. It is a combination of those machines
of data and artificial intelligence combined with the human element. And remember: those four characteristics
are on a spectrum of skills. But the second C of Creativity
allows us to open up our human mind to something that might seem
boring or mundane, but data and information have power. Now overall, this world that we’re
living in truly can be improved in society, in business,
and in our own personal lives, as we improve ourselves in reading, working with, analyzing,
and arguing with data. If you want to have a foolproof way
of succeeding in the future and in this digital world become data literate. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. Nice, but information sheets are not always made to be comprehensive.
    It's a bit like using HP for cars. Why not use torque, gear ratios and weight instead? Nah.
    But yet a 110HP engine can beat a 2000HP engine.

  2. Oh…u inspired me to solve the Data interpretation questions which seems impossible thing to me because it has mathematical application.
    Btw,am finally trying to solve the questions and I know I will smash my mathematics phobia this time…
    Love from India ❤️

  3. Data is new oil.. rightly said.. In the era of digital world we need to more aware about what digital world selling us and how mass media manipulating us.. data literacy can help to make better judgement..

  4. Speech felt empty.

    Ok, we've been badgered for the past few years about the importance of data literacy.

    Read and make sense of data.

    Ok, what does that mean in real life, once the average person gets off of work? Saying that one should be curious and creative means what for Joe Average?

    In other words; we need ACTIONABLE information.

    Saying "be aware, be aware!"…and then not following up with concrete steps, is not exactly useful.

  5. Interpreting is a missing activity between 4 “analyzing” and 5 “arguing”. Just because you analyze something doesn’t mean you have rolled up the data and interpret it.

  6. His opening points, the reason for wanting to become data literate, can be also solved by being more vigilant about statistics intake in media. Look up sources and question every number or indication of a number you read. "Most people.." can be based on a survey held in the US in 100 respondents who are all university students. Or something like "2 out of 5 teens in university…" can refer to only 18 and 19 year olds who are in university, leaving other students out of the dataset.

  7. did you know you need a stuffed animal that calls you names and works for China? because I have one. its called a Furby. 🙂

  8. I take a full benefit of this vid about observing and processing data. But imho, the last part (human element in making decision) definetely needs a separate time for more elaboration. Decision making process is very complex and it needs much more than just creativite thinking.

  9. I have no idea what hes talkin about, what i got from this video is that i can buy new piece of tech and have reasons for it (like buying a new phone bcoz it has higher pixel density or whatever)

    Un impressed

  10. This is so important in this new age, I am lucky to have grown up with all of this. I am concerned for the 40+ year olds, it's going to be tough for our parents! I do all I can to minimise the amount of data I consume and also give away. I'd pay above the odds for products that don't make us products ourselves!

  11. One thing is missing: having access to the right data from a reliable source. Often the most interesting data is missing or inaccessible. Then, there is also the trouble of knowing whether the data is reliable/truthful… To take the refrigerator example, one of the things we typically do not find on the "sheets" is how many years the product lasts without needinga repair….there are many things like that.

  12. This long winded and over educated guy needs to question if he has the survival skills to feed his family when the grid goes down for an extended period. All his high tech literacy will be useless then.

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