The age of data literacy | Uldis Leiterts | TEDxRiga



Translator: Ilze Garda
Reviewer: Denise RQ I will tell you about the human brain. The human brain is wired
to understand stories. What is the problem with the stories?
They are emotional. What else we have is data.
How do we deal with data? A brain is not quite fine
with dealing with pure data, and when the data meets the stories,
the stories actually beat the data. What that means is that emotional arguments are
usually stronger than the numbers. I'll give you an example:
the global warming. Do we actually know that it's happening? We have different sides, different people,
different organizations, and governments discussing the topic. And we have stories conflicting. But unless we look behind the stories,
unless we look into the numbers, we don't know which side is right. Should we do help the world
with vaccinating every child on the planet – that's billions of dollars,
that's a massive work – that will save millions of lives? Are we sure about that? We have different sides again,
and different stories again, but unless we look
into the underlying data, unless we look
into the numbers and insights, we have no idea if the vaccine
we just bought for billions of dollars is the one that will actually save anyone. Do we know that? Let's assume that we do;
stories [are] based on data. Which is what a lot of newspapers
and online publishers are doing: they're publishing articles
with lots of numbers inside, so we do have data into the stories. I'll give an example: this one
is paragraph from the Wikipedia. At just a glimpse on that,
can you, please, tell me what it does say? It is a break-down
of New York City population by demographics and by nationalities. For some nationalities,
they used percentage and for others six-digit numbers. After you read
three or four of those digits, you actually stop reading
and understanding the content, the numbers stop being meaningful,
the numbers do not tell which of those numbers
are bigger or smaller, those are just numbers and statistics,
they do not give you insights. That's a very quick visualization, but it shows that the Spanish
is the largest portion of New York City, followed by the Chinese, the Russians,
the Italians and the French. I've spent many years in newsroom, and my job as a graphic designer
was to translate data into stories, to make data understandable,
to make data human-readable with just a glimpse of the eye. The story about myself and the things
we do is data visualization. I was at a coffee shop outside Riga,
pretty far from here, and we were two guys sitting
at the coffee shop and drinking coffee. We discussed starting a new venture,
we wanted to do a startup, and we wanted to do a startup
in the industry which we loved, which we understood,
which we've worked in all our lives, and that is media. We wanted to do something with content, something that do bring information,
insights, and content to the people. To value preposition for the media,
we looked around the Internet, and looked what kind of state
the media industry is currently in. You can Google any chart, – that's the advertising revenue
for print and online; that's the people employed
in the publishing industry in the US which is currently on about the same level
as the mid-20th century – almost every chart you would find
on Google is going down. It's a very pessimistic outlook. How do you make sense of the industry which itself feels pretty pessimistic
about what the future is? What's the future of print,
and of digital? How do we combine those two? How do we deal with television,
how do we deal with the Internet? How do we deal
with information and stories? How do we bring the stories to the people? That is all about combining
and capturing people's attention with the stories and actually
the data behind the stories; sometimes it's what captures
attention most. I'll give you a chart. The blue line and the red line,
these are Google trends. This is the search volume
for two different key words, – the blue one and the red one –
and this is a very high volume. The blue one is probably
one of the most searched terms on the Internet today, and it's been so constantly
since the beginning of time, or at least 2005. If you compare that to, let's say,
Gangnam Style or Barack Obama, there will be a huge spike,
skyrocketing and falling again down. But this one is constantly needed,
and people are searching for that. Any guesses what the blue line could be? It's one of the most searched
terms on the Internet, anyone? (Audience) Sex.
UL: Sex, what else? (Audience) God. Money.
UL: Yes. (Audience) Weather.
UL: Weather, OK. What else? (Audience) Job.
UL: Job, OK. Yeah, for advertising that might be
needed, and for publishing. What else? (Audience) Pictures.
UL: Pictures, OK. I'll tell you what it is:
it's "funny cats". (Laughter) What the red line could be? It has beaten funny cats, it's almost
as relevant on the web now, it's important on the web, even more important
than funny cats, what's that? (Audience) TED. UL: TED. I would be happy
about it actually, what else? (Audience) Funny dogs.
UL: Funny dogs. Yeah, the dogs would be
catching up finally. (Laughter) (Audience) Global warming.
UL: Global warming. The red line represents infographics,
and why is that important? It means that properly packed
and structured information is more relevant and needed
than entertainment. It's the first time you can actually see
how the content beats entertainment. The people do search
for data visualizations because they give insights
at the glimpse of the eye and are probably both telling you
the stories and bringing information, and being entertainment at the same time. So that is probably
the future of the media, that is probably the future of the way
we consume information, because we want to know
the insights behind the information. This is how we started our startup
which is called infogr.am with very easy to make
data visualizations, so people can create their own charts
and infographics in just a few minutes. And it's mostly absolutely free. Today, two and a half years later, we have 2.1 million infographics
created in infogr.am. Putting that in context,
I looked around on the Internet, and the best numbers I could find was about 75,000 – 85,000 infographics
out there prior to when we started. So currently, there is about 100,000 infographics
being published on infogr.am every month. That means that every month,
there are more infographics created than throughout the entire history
of mankind, just two years ago. And who does use that? What we discovered with the media is that people do actually spend
more time reading the article if it has an infographic in it. In some cases, when you take an article
which has plain-text numbers, the ones I showed you
with New York City population, and replace the text with an infographic, it gets up to 60% more social shares. That means 60% more traffic
from the social networks, that means more eyeballs on advertisement, it fixes the publishing industry's
problem of how to make money. Well, you have to tell the story
in an attractive, more modern way, in a way that people would be
happy to see it, read it, understand and share,
and tell everyone else: "Hey, that's a good article,
you have to see that." But even more exciting is
infographics are being used in schools, starting with 10-year-old kids, and that is the beginning
of a new era of data literacy: people not just writing texts, but being very comfortable
with dealing with numbers, dealing with insights,
making sense of a lot of numbers, and making stories out of those numbers, so that everyone else
can understand the data. Starting with10-year-olds,
they're learning the mathematics, they're learning that this is
how the numbers look like. The numbers aren't
just pure digits on paper, they actually look like something
and make sense. Then you go to high school,
and you visualize the history. You can go through
a series of reports about history, and that's all pure data visualized,
and you can do that in 10 – 20 minutes, while reading 20 – 30 reports in class
would take way more time. In 1439, Gutenberg introduced printing, and it brought the end of the Middle Ages and new prosperity
and innovation to the world, and currently, 85% of the people
around the world are able to read. What we need now
is the same data literacy rate. We want to see
85% of the people of the world not just being able to deal
with emotional stories, but insights, and the data, and they should feel
equally comfortable doing that because the data visualization
is a universal language. There is a lot of data around,
there is open data, there are a lot of movements where governments are telling the numbers
underlying every decision they make, there are a lot of arguments for which you can look around
and find the numbers behind them. What a great progress that would be if we could actually look
at those numbers and see the insights, if we could not make decisions
based on emotions, but based on insights. Thank you. (Applause)

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