Our Cultural Problem with Big Data

The Covid crisis has highlighted the interconnectedness of our world on every level from the household to the global market. The instruction to interact with as few people as possible is fundamentally counter to our social structures of the twenty-first century where regular commerce and social gatherings leave us exposed to hundreds if not thousands of people a week. The thesis of Zeynep Tufekci’s writing, that “complex systems defy simplistic reductionism” prompts us to consider this situation from a “complex-systems perspective”, fully considering how different aspects of our world’s health and industry infrastructures connect. The most compelling argument for system thinking comes from the resource allocation and manufacturing priority examples. The Covid situation will not only overwhelm the healthcare system now, but with manufacturing being focused only on products relevant to the current crisis, there will surely be shortages of other necessities in the months to come. These supply chain issues could also be disrupted by concerns of cross contamination between countries trying to isolate.

These current and ongoing issues are multifaceted, and it can be difficult to visualize the entirety of the problem. Even good data presentation and visualization can be lacking when the system has so many variables. It’s easy to say that we should have looked at the numbers, but this article demonstrates that a one-dimensional look at the data failed to identify this threat as a serious problem, which it has certainly become. There is a clear need for efficient ways to view complex systems and the full extent of their outcomes.