Be a Data Detective!

Be a Data Detective!
Have you ever thought of yourself as the sum of your actions? What about the sum of years you’ve been alive, the number of hairs on your head, or how many times a day you brush your teeth? Think about the text messages you send each day, the places you check in on Foursquare, your Google search history, or your Facebook wall posts.

Our lives can be broken down into endless categories of quantifiable data. With these tiny, incremental details, what could an outside observer piece together to learn about the big picture that is your life?

On Wednesday, November 14, TedxYouth is launching a brand new project called Data Detectives: The Human Face of Big Data. This project is aimed toward teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 to teach them about the applications of Big Data. Former TED speaker Rick Smolan is the man behind the mission to make Big Data both accessible and fun.

By answering a 20-question online survey, you’ll be helping to build a data set that will allow teens to compare themselves to other teens all over the world. Some sample questions from the survey: “Are you more like your mother or father?”, “How do your parents discipline you for bad behavior?”, and “How do you get to school: by bus, public transportation, limo, donkey, or skateboard?” –TED blog, 10/25/12

Rick Smolan – The Human Face of Big Data from Steven Dean on Vimeo.

As more people participate in the survey over time, the data will be compiled in an increasingly larger set. Participants can check in and see how the information grows. Jennifer Chapin, one of the project organizers, predicts participants “will see the world in which the collection, analysis, and visualization of data is empowering the human race across geographic, economic, and cultural barriers.”

What’s amazing about this project is that modern technology makes data accessible in ways that simply didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago. We can broadcast, conduct, and answer surveys from the comfort and safety of our own computer chairs as opposed to approaching strangers on the street or organizing focus groups.

By studying crowdsourced data on a large scale, participants will be able to observe significant trends within the data collected as well as determine what different sets mean in relation to each other. Gathering information is one thing, but analyzing it and deciding what to do with it is another. The latter is perhaps the most exciting part and leaves plenty of room for creativity.

The vast amount of data that we’re able to collect in real-time by satellites, mobile phones, RFID tags, GPS-enabled cameras, and computers from around the world allow us, Chapin posits, “to sense, measure, understand and affect aspects of our existence in ways our ancestors could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.”

The site officially launches on November 14th, and the project will be presented at TEDxYouth in New York on November 17th, where 400 local high school students will gather for speaker sessions featuring 20 scientists, designers, technologists, explorers, artists, and performers that will share short lessons on what they do best. More than 100 parallel independently organized TEDxYouthDay events will take place in 42 countries around the world. TEDxYouthDay’s are planned by TEDx organizers worldwide, with the idea to inspire and engage youth.

Read more about why big data matters. Podcast lovers, point your ears toward On the Media’s episode about Big Data. Want visuals? The best of data visualization, an up-and-coming niche.

Be sure to stop by our Project Finder to sift through a database of over 500 citizen science projects!

Statistics and Data: TEDxYouth
Photo: DARPA

Categories: Citizen Science

About the Author


Lily Bui

Although she holds dual non-science bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. A daughter of an engineer and an accountant who also happen to be a photographer and musician, respectively, Lily grew up on the nexus between science and art. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works with WGBH-TV Boston and Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). // Tweets @dangerbui