Once upon a time, my husband left the house to pick up dinner. Within minutes of his departure, the sky turned pea soup green and the wind began blowing sideways. My reptilian brain, still scarred from the DC Derecho last June, went into overdrive and imagined my husband crushed like garbage in a compactor by airborne pedestrians, fallen power lines, and uprooted trees in his 5-star safety rated car.
My twin, who was also over, suggested we check Weather in Motion® on weather.com, the supposition being that proactively analyzing available data is always better than stewing in unsubstantiated fears. No amount of animated meteorological graphics could save him from being flattened like a pancake, mind you, but when you live in a world dominated by data, cause and effect are no longer bound by logic.
“Wait a minute,” she said, clicking and re-clicking the future button to make the colored blobs move from right to left in dizzying succession. “This doesn’t make sense…”
“What?! Oh, no! Is it that bad? Is he going to die because we wanted Mexican?”
“No, that’s just it…come look.”
I looked, but I couldn’t see the problem. There were several smallish blobs of green to the south, a few scary looking mustard and ketchup storms out west, but nothing right where we were. From my vantage point, life was good. My husband would be back soon, safe and sound, with a bag full of steak tacos.
“Don’t you see?” she persisted.
“No.” I shrugged my shoulders. “What’s the big deal?”
Now I was confused. Was she trying to tell me that the pea soup, the wind, the rain couldn’t exist because the map didn’t have enough green blogs to support this conclusion?
“Whatever,” she replied petulantly when I called her on it. “You know what I mean.”
I did; I still do.
As much as I love mocking her, I completely understand her knee-jerk reaction. With so much data pushed at us everyday—from performance metrics, test scores, size and weight percentiles to number of Facebook ‘friends,’ twitter followers, and page views—haven’t you ever, if only briefly, stacked the deck against common sense? I know I have. From letting the number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ validate my sense of humor on Facebook to gauging my talent as a writer by publication alone, I give data way too much power over my sense of reality and self-worth.
It must stop. Like John Jame Audubon once said, “When the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.”