2014: It’s Time for Us to Use All That Data

Now that we have zillions of bytes of data about just about everything, we can see the power of our choices — and it’s time to stop blaming everyone else and take matters into our own hands. It’s time to change our own behaviors, instead of waiting for others to do their part.
Whether it’s the economy, health care, energy and the environment, the community, our careers, or our kids’ performance in school, we have levers in our hands. Collecting Big Data was a theme of 2013 and now it’s time to use all that data — deliberately and wisely.
“Data is increasingly the currency of power,” Michael Scherer declared in his article on Edward Snowden as the runner up for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2013.” Data is the currency of personal power, as well as of business and political power. There’s an app for tracking just about everything in our lives, from how we spend our time, to what we eat, to how often we exercise, to our carbon footprint, to how we drive, shop and entertain — so we have no more excuses. Our smartphones can manage our time and reel our focus back to our priorities.
Others still have to do their part, including the powers-that-be in Washington, DC, but it’s time for each of us to step up to the plate Big Time. Yes, you, overwhelmed you. Consider the possibility that you are overwhelmed because you — like the rest of us — live in the land of reaction. We react to our inboxes and phones, which reflect other people’s priorities. It’s time to be proactive and focused on our priorities.
As Baratunde Thurston of Fast Company magazine discovered when he took a “secular Sabbath” from his devices for three weeks, “I spent an inordinate amount of time documenting, commenting on, and sharing experiences. In the process, I wasn’t fully having those experiences… In choosing to digitally enhance, hyperconnect, and constantly share our lives, we risk not living them.”
We each have more control than we think — and I’m talking to myself here too.
What accomplishments — professional, community, business, and personal — do you want to be celebrating this time next year? Here are a few that may resonate with you:
1. Is your personal economy stagnant, despite the pundits’ proclamations that the economy is improving? Convert that frustration into action. What skills and talents do you want to use, or learn? What kind of people do you want to be around? If money was plentiful, how would you spend your time? Go for it!
2. Do you want to use less energy and reduce your carbon footprint — and save money in the process? You’re not alone. A Cone Communications study in 2013 found that 71 percent of consumers consider the environment when making a purchase decision. There are apps to help, like the Good Guide app, which I mentioned on WTOP-FM earlier this year.
Other easy ways are to reduce your driving footprint by walking, taking public transit or driving an electric or hybrid vehicle, and to recycle. As I discussed with Melissa Walsh Innes on my radio show, “Green Connections,,” only 8 percent of plastic generated in the U.S. is truly recycled today. We can — and must — do better. Speaking of putting your money where your values are, you can achieve strong financial performance with socially-responsible investing now too, as Dr. Julie Fox Gorte of PaxWorld Investments discussed with me on “Green Connections.”
3. Do you want to be healthier? There are apps for that. Big Data is taking on health care big time. As the headline in USA Today read this week, “Technology, prevention will cut down health care costs.” The challenges with Obamacare will matter less if you take care of yourself.
4. Do you want your kids to do better in school? The data shows that the kids who do best in school have involved parents. So help them with their homework and attend parent-teacher meetings. Are you embarrassed that you can’t do the math? Go see the teacher with them, or get a tutor and learn together. Show your child that it’s good to ask for help and that life is about perpetual learning.
My “person of the year” is Dr. Brenée Brown, who speaks the unspeakable-but-necessary truths in her TEDTalks (with 4 million-plus views) and best-selling book, Daring Greatly, named after a quote by President Teddy Roosevelt. She shined the light on everyone’s greatest fear: being vulnerable, seen for who we really are flaws and all.
My new favorite quote is from one of her appearances on Oprah’s Lifeclass on OWN: “Daring greatly means being brave and scared at the same time.” Say that to yourself a few times and let it sink in.
We control our time, our words, our actions, our choices, our bodies, and our tone of voice. A new year, and each new day, is a fresh start. What do you want to be celebrating at this time next year?
How will you “dare greatly” in 2014?
This article first appeared here in the Huffington Post.