In the utopian society described in Plato’s Republic, knowledgeable philosophers led the ignorant masses. These ‘Philosopher Kings’ supposedly knew what was best for the people and the society at large, and the masses were to obediently comply with the ruling of these philosopher kings. While we might believe we have avoided this tyrannical system, a hidden beast may slowly be programming humans and society at large like the philosopher kings did to the lower classes in The Republic: Data.
Data, and more specifically data about us, exists everywhere from the YouTube videos we watch to what brands of foods we like. While this data might be convenient for finding videos related to one’s favorite television show or food recommendations, there are times where the data we provide can be used in a more insidious manner. Facebook, for instance, has an algorithm to determine a user’s political orientation. Something seemingly harmless like whether one likes Chick-Fil-A or Ben and Jerry’s influences Facebook’s algorithm. With this, politicians and interest groups can target their ads towards the people they believe are most likely to engage with their content. These targeted advertisements can effectively create “echo chambers” that limit our range of critical thought.
Of course, data and its consequences also exist outside the realm of social media. Organizations that use incomplete data analysis can inadvertently make poor decisions. Say a school district wants to reallocate funding and they decide to reward the best-performing schools more heavily. During their evaluation, policy makers might look at standardized test scores to see which schools are the “best.” However, this method may fail to recognize which schools have amazing humanities and arts programs or which schools successfully serve marginalized communities. Clearly, an incomplete data story can cause the school district to make sub-optimal choices while maintaining the air of “objectivity.”
When we passively allow data to control the content we see and the choices we make without critical thought, we put data on the same pedestal as the Philosopher Kings in Plato’s Republic and lose our agency. This is also true in one’s business. Scattered information networks create redundant, incomplete, and sometimes just bad data. If we make business decisions based upon this incomplete story, we fall victim to a potentially tyrannical system. Thankfully, a powerful information governance solution can help you get the complete story on your data, so you can control your data and not the other way around.