Have you ever thought about how much of the data you interact with every day is related to other data? Think about this:
Just by turning on your TV, the channels you visit receive ratings based on how long you view them. That means that you’re choosing to give your favorite news station a higher rating than the others, which means that local station can make more of a profit from advertising revenue. Just by watching TV, you’ve now impacted multiple companies: a news station and their advertising partners.
Continuing on the news station route, they could either keep that extra revenue as corporate profits, share those profits among their employees, or put it back into the community. Literally — just by watching TV, you could help to be the reason that a poor employee is able to feed a family, or why the local YMCA receives a nice donation.
Taking a turn back — let’s go the advertising route. By watching ads on your favorite news station, these advertisers build stronger relationships with that station, thus cementing that they’ll be partners for that much longer. This means a longer continued stream of income for the news station, as well as alerting the advertiser that their ads are actually being seen. Should you choose to purchase something related to an ad you’ve seen this news station — such as razor blades — then you’ve helped to cement that relationship even more, because advertising companies are always tracking how effective their marketing is related to how much profit they’re making from it. All of this means that the local community news station ends up growing stronger economically, which means that your local community grows stronger economically, which in turn will mean that you can grow stronger economically too, because to some degree, these benefits will all trickle down. And all of this ties back into you deciding to turn on the TV one evening.
It’s crazy! And there are a million stories just like this that show how connected your data is. Here’s one of our favorite’s from a very popular TED talk, about how wolves changed the rivers:
A trophic cascade is an ecological process which starts at the top of the food chain and tumbles all the way down to the bottom, and the classic example is what happened in the Yellowstone National Park in the United States when wolves were reintroduced in 1995. Now, we all know that wolves kill various species of animals, but perhaps we’re slightly less aware that they give life to many others. It sounds strange, but just follow me for a while. Before the wolves turned up, they’d been absent for 70 years. The numbers of deer, because there was nothing to hunt them, had built up and built up in the Yellowstone Park, and despite efforts by humans to control them, they’d managed to reduce much of the vegetation there to almost nothing, they’d just grazed it away. But as soon as the wolves arrived, even though they were few in number, they started to have the most remarkable effects.
First, of course, they killed some of the deer, but that wasn’t the major thing. Much more significantly, they radically changed the behavior of the deer. The deer started avoiding certain parts of the park, the places where they could be trapped most easily, particularly the valleys and the gorges, and immediately those places started to regenerate. In some areas, the height of the trees quintupled in just six years. Bare valley sides quickly became forests of aspen and willow and cottonwood. And as soon as that happened, the birds started moving in. The number of songbirds, of migratory birds, started to increase greatly. The number of beavers started to increase, because beavers like to eat the trees. And beavers, like wolves, are ecosystem engineers. They create niches for other species. And the dams they built in the rivers provided habitats for otters and muskrats and ducks and fish and reptiles and amphibians. The wolves killed coyotes, and as a result of that, the number of rabbits and mice began to rise, which meant more hawks, more weasels, more foxes, more badgers. Ravens and bald eagles came down to feed on the carrion that the wolves had left. Bears fed on it too, and their population began to rise as well, partly also because there were more berries growing on the regenerating shrubs, and the bears reinforced the impact of the wolves by killing some of the calves of the deer.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. The wolves changed the behavior of the rivers. They began to meander less. There was less erosion. The channels narrowed. More pools formed, more riffle sections, all of which were great for wildlife habitats. The rivers changed in response to the wolves, and the reason was that the regenerating forests stabilized the banks so that they collapsed less often, so that the rivers became more fixed in their course. Similarly, by driving the deer out of some places and the vegetation recovering on the valley sides, there was less soil erosion, because the vegetation stabilized that as well. So the wolves, small in number, transformed not just the ecosystem of the Yellowstone National Park, this huge area of land, but also its physical geography.
— George Monbiot
If you look hard enough, you’ll start seeing signs everywhere about how interconnected your data is. It’s just up to you to find them!