Metaphors, Silicon Sultans and salivating idiots – another fine mess

Big Tech Grilling

We haven’t quite “sent it packing” yet, however once COVID-19 has finally been “wrestled to the ground” – mid next year, perhaps; or, maybe never – clearly we will “bounce back stronger than ever before”, according to the strictly non-hyperbolic musings of Prime Minister Demonic Goings Boris Johnson.

Aftermath of World War I? World War II? Bibble babble, donnez-moi un break, mate, as the wily wordsmith would have it.

In his seminal 1995 paper on “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or, Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals In the Dust”, cognitive linguist and philosopher George Lakoff explained that “While conservatives understand that all of their policies have a single unified origin, liberals understand their own political conceptual universe so badly that they still think of it in terms coalitions of interest.”

He concluded that “Liberals need to go beyond coalitions of interest groups to consciously construct a unified language and imagery to convey their worldview. This will not be easy, and they are thirty years behind.” Make that about 55 years by now.

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A very curious mind indeed

As the world appears to become “curiouser and curiouser”, we could all do with some instructions as to how to make more sense of what is happening, connect dots, draw conclusions and make good – if not better – decisions.

Thankfully, SmallDataForum co-founder and regular co-presenter Sam Knowles has written the book that has those instructions, and much more. In How To Be Insightful, Sam combines the experience of a career helping organizations communicate better with his training as a classicist and a doctorate in psychology to tell the story how insights work. As a true data storyteller, he does so with plenty of evidence.

Published a few weeks ago, the book is Sam’s second – although as he’ll explain, Narrative by Numbers is in many ways the prequel – and so the SmallDataForum convened for its first ever Book Special to discuss with the author how learning to apply his STEP Prism of InsightTM helps us get to that “profound and deep understanding of a person, a thing, a situation, or an issue that we can use to help us advance…the very definition of insight.”

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From Woodstock to Nudgestock

Apparently 2020 is what you get when you put together 1918, 1929 and 1968. With just over 40% done, it’s a bit early to say. Or is it?

Pandemic – tick. Global recession – about to hit. Political turbulence and social unrest – we’re only getting started. At least 1968 was followed by the year of moon landing, and Woodstock.

Fifty years and a bit on, we’ve just had the first private company sending astronauts into orbit (though not quite with e-rockets; Elon needs to work on that). And the next Woodstock is likely to be a smorgasbord of Zoomed home gigs.

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“If broadband goes down, we’re all screwed”

perspective

For all the disruption that the lockdown has brought to the nation (if not the world), for the cast of the SmallDataForum, little has changed in the way we work: most of our 34 episodes were recorded “in the Zoom where it happens” (with a bit of Whereby here and there).

Sam is still delivering training on data storytelling and insightful thinking, just now with participants on screen.

Neville has been commuting the few meters to the home office for years, and I’m not at all missing the occasional trips to a London WeWork office – video calls do the job just as well.

And isn’t the fall of WeWork and the rise of Zoom (ignoring security and privacy issue for the moment) just the metaphor for our times …

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Convolvulus, Coronavirus & the Thomas theorem, or when stuff gets real

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequence”.

This little known sociological formula from the late 1920s, known as the Thomas Theorem after husband-and-wife research team William and Dorothy Thomas (I wish I could claim a level of ownership but no), helps us understand how and why the perception and interpretation of events determine the impact of such events in a media world.

And it’s not hard to see why there might be a problem when ‘situations’ arise from mis- and dis-information.

For almost four years now, the SmallDataForum has been mulling over, musing on and opining about the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business and public life – and with Brexit and Trump perma-themes on our show, mis- and dis-information have always been top of the bill.

No surprise, then, that our latest podcast – recorded in splendid self-isolation in our respective home offices – was largely about the misinfodemic of COVID-19.

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