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From Sampling to Monitoring to Gulping Data Down in Great Big Chunks
Alex Steffen, 9 Jun 08

One of the forces facilitating the possibility of a bright green economic transformation is insight into the systems around us, particularly the kind of insight we gain through making visible the invisible and manifesting backstories.

As the price of using technology to sample, monitor, sense, aggregate and communicate data continues to drop rapidly, we face a rift between the sheer dumbness of the built world and industrial systems we've inherited, and our rapidly-expanding insight into how those systems work. Along that faultline lie a million opportunities for not only making those systems more efficient and our lives more sustainable, but for whole new systems and wholly new lives within those systems. This will be a major theme in our next book.

Of course, all sorts of barriers and uncertainties and pitfalls lie before us, not least of which are the huge issues over privacy, open v. closed systems and data ownership, but it is also true that the potential gains here are monumental.

Gavin Clabaugh hits a proper note of awe, I think, in his essay on the epoch of incredulity:

I see it hiding inside the inaccurately named thing called “social networking. I see it embedded in “American Idol.” It follows me to the grocery store. It wakes me up at night. It’s busy working away on web pages and formatting RSS feeds. It’s reading your electric meter. It’s even there when you drive into a parking lot. It’s monitoring air quality, or temperature, and it’s in that vending machine down the hall tracking the ever-so-important availability of cheese-doodles.

The third force is all about the network and it’s all about the collapse of time. It’s all about a new network of machines, sensors, monitors, and even some humans, that spend their days tasting the world, and talking to other machines about what they’ve tasted. Sometimes it’s frightening.

I once characterized the third force as the move “from sampling to monitoring.” I figured soon we wouldn’t need things like statistical sampling to measure our world. I argued that we were increasingly moving to “real-time” measurements to understand the world. The time and distance between action and feedback would disappear. It’s come true.

Day by day, step-by-step, we are closer and closer to having our grubby little metaphorical fingers on the pulse of the world, a live wire tapped straight into a global, wired, world nervous system —pulling out the real-time flow of public opinion, or market penetration, or product usage, or the number of parking spaces left in a parking garage.

...This third force is about our radical move from sampling our world in little bits and pieces to monitoring our lives in near-real-time, gulping it down in great big chunks, as it happens. And, it’s also about the distribution and representation of this new world of information – these great chunks of stuff – in ways that that change lives, change markets, or simply change the length of your workday.

We'll be writing a lot more about this subject. But this seemed worth sharing now...

Thanks to Jon Stahl for the link

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"...This third force is about our radical move from sampling our world in little bits and pieces to monitoring our lives in near-real-time, gulping it down in great big chunks, as it happens."

Yes please.

Working with green, "high efficiency" buildings over the last few months, there's a big disconnect between green design, and actualizing that design. On paper a building runs 40% below code, but in actuality it's running ABOVE code. When asked why, a big component was poor sub-metering of electricity use. I'm not talking about the groovy personal real time energy monitors us eco-geeks get jazzed about. I'm talking about behind the scenes, down in the operations centers of the big buildings. Real time touch screens are great, but if the operations staff and budgeting people invest in good sub metering, and then start SEEING how much they're wasting, if there are good, bright green voices commenting and shedding light on those numbers, institutions CAN change.

Posted by: Lev on 10 Jun 08



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