you ever wondered about averages and statistics and probabilities?
know. Of course not. That stuff, if you took any classes involving
it, is back in the textbooks with other stuff you knew you were
never going to use again once you got out of school. (Take that,
some of it is fascinating. When collected over time, it can deliver
some amazing things. Itís the foundation of how Netflix and Amazon
make suggestions to you about shows youíll enjoy and products
you should try. Itís also why you look up a propane grill on a
home goods site and end up miraculously seeing ads for propane
grills all over your social media pages for the next week.
itís more than that, truth be told. You know itís the averages
and statistics and probabilities and cookies and snooping around
while sharing information you didnít know you consented to allow
the sharing ofÖ but whatís a little privacy invasion between friends
when there are some terrific programs to binge. Right?)
problem Iíve always had with numbers though is that they lie.
Hold on for a minute. Stop typing and close your e-mail. When
well defined and properly used, numbers do not necessarily lie.
We agree on that. No need to send me angry messages.
problem Iím actually thinking of is created by slightly tilting,
definitely twisting, and almost never explaining when the numbers
arenít incorporating the entire picture.
say you absolutely love Chinese food. Love it so much that you
eat it five to ten or more times for dinner every month. Twice
a week on average sounds about right. Every day if offered would
not upset you at all. If weíre trying to develop a program that
suggests dinner options for you, weíd definitely expect to see
some egg rolls and fried rice as the top possibilities.
what if we started our data collection today? Not yesterday. Not
last week. You made pizza today. Tomorrow tacos. Steak will be
followed by lasagna to be followed by hamburgers with the last
two meals of the week set for chicken on the grill and shrimp
a really good chance that with this menu in place, the dinner
selection offerings from data collection are going to be heavy
on Italian cuisine and comfort foods with no Chinese dishes offered
at all. If breakfast and lunch orders are tracked, you might find
yourself more likely to see Count Chocula high on the list and
not a single dumpling to be found.
time, the numbers will balance out. Like a probability of flipping
a coin that starts off with tails appearing on the first ten tosses,
the realities eventually take over the outliers. Harmony restored.
course, tell that to Netflix when you open an account because
a friend recommended a really great documentary to you, and now
the streaming giant thinks youíre obsessed with serial killers.)
of ours is back out in the dating world. For whatever reason,
we were catching up one day and the idea of why we kept getting
streaming recommendations for floral design and baking competitions
came up. I ended up mentioning the time it took for fake numbers
to be balanced out with actual facts. Her response was to make
a joke about how it would be nice for people to balance out the
personalities on display during a first date, where best behavior
and nerves can create a disguise for the jerks that often show
up on date number two.
has a point. Tangent of this thought, totally different essay.
now though, the reality remains. Numbers lie. Doesnít mean they
canít be useful. Doesnít mean they wonít make sense over time.
Just means you need to understand how they were obtained.