Coming Out of 2020: A Data-Driven Approach

Adriana J.M.
4 min readJan 3, 2021
‘Beschreibung des heyligen Bischoffs Eusebij: der ain junger un[d] diszipel des heyligen Sancti Hieronymi gewest ist…’; book on the life of St Jerome, published by Lazarus Spengler and printed in by Hieronymus Höltzel, Nuremberg, 1514, containing on the verso of the title-page a woodcut of 1512 by Albrecht Dürer, showing St Jerome sitting in a cave in front of a stone desk, reading; on the left a lion. 1512 (1514) Woodcut and letterpress © The Trustees of the British Museum

As new vaccines develop and creeping out of our caves feels within reach, I can’t help but feel anxious about what may come in 2021. Multiple conversations I’ve had this year have included topics like, “I can’t tell what’s real anymore,” “I’m a total mess,” “It’s the end of the world,” etc. These passively nihilistic thoughts are no longer sitting under the surface, but have become more active and immediate. Maybe, it is the sudden collective awareness of the things that have been prodding us unconsciously that is causing the angst and frustrating feelings of distrust. The learned helplessness of modern life is no longer complacent as the chronic anxiety of a global pandemic pushes us to the limits of our humanity.

At the center of a lot of these systems and means of control is data. Data and analytics can lean dystopian or utopian and it definitely feels as if we’re leaning more dystopian, these days. The motivation for a lot of big data collection and the end to its means is survivalist Machiavellian capitalism, instead of a sustainable approach like human-centered capitalism which measures success by quality of life for all.

We’re human. We can only handle so much before change is necessary. As unemployment continues, the pandemic rages on, stay at home orders wax and wane, and we increasingly consume media feeds, while giving away our interests and attention, for free — institutions continue to profit and grind through public health control experimentation, corrupt politics, and produce sensationalized media that gets more harmful with every share, like, and follow that we inform them with. So, what can we do looking forward towards a less dystopian future where we aren’t just mindlessly doing things, without really considering the consequences — living a conditioned life and submitting to another authoritarian institution that some highly controversial individual established, and reaching another point of no return (I’m guilty of using the highly wasteful and unethical convenience of 2-day delivery, too)? We need authentic, radically-informed, and intentional change.

We’re undergoing a collective existential crisis where we’ve been shaken out of our ignorance and either thrown into despair or emboldened with a spirit of organized change and revolution. I had been going through an existential crisis, since the end of 2019, and was realigning what I wanted to do with my career and how I saw my relationships. When the pandemic hit, that period of introspection was catapulted into a more actionable state. I instantly shed a lot of baggage that had been holding me back. I got involved with online crisis counseling as a way to support and keep an open mind about others’ life experiences. I also got involved with contributing my skills (and getting the opportunity to develop new skills) to political organizers that I felt aligned with. And I finally decided on a career path that could get to the core of our current reality, use my previous education and experience, and could help shape the outcome of our future — data science.

We need more diverse people and perspectives influencing how AI and data science are being used, because technology will continue to influence how our American society is shaped and if it’s done right, we could be more like The Jetsons and less like 1984. There is so much open information out there and this information can be used for progress, not oppression. We have to take action (and keep trying when we fail), individually and collectively, instead of watching from our screens and posting our complaints — feeding the system that is the thing fueling our frustration. Start by staying informed to prevent those feelings of helplessness and take what action is in your control. There are tons of resources linked in this article along with some more below:

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) — great for keeping up with current litigation cases regarding data rights

The Data Dividend Project (DDP) — if you want to get paid for your data

The Center for Humane Technology — digital wellness resources and lots of other radical progress from industry experts

We are capable of so much, good and bad, but we have to keep exploring new frontiers, fearlessly, and see where leaving our current not-so-comfortable comfort zones can take us. If we can see the potential in shaping a sustainable human-centered world that benefits the many, and not a shrouded reality that only benefits the few, then that could be just enough motivation to keep going forward after the collective hell that was 2020.