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The study of data in our hyper-connected society

Since the 1990s and the expansion of the Internet, our hyper-connected environment has gradually changed our relationship to information. New types of behaviour have emerged during the production, exchange and reading phases of the data, producing…. 
– Extract from the White Paper 10:11 “Time is data” –

Since the 1990s and the expansion of the Internet, our hyper-connected environment has gradually changed our relationship to information. New types of behaviour have emerged during the production, exchange and reading phases of the data, producing new social, physiological and economic needs. A large part of the population is now over-connected, thanks in particular to the simplification of Internet access, the democratization of smartphones and tablets and the emergence of connected objects. in this sense, the digital marketing agency Tecmark published a study that shows that we consult our smartphone on average 221 times a day, which would correspond to 3h16 of our time. for comparison, the British operator O2 specifies in another study that we only interact 97 minutes a day with our companion. 

Sergueï Brin, co-founder of Google, predicts that the hyperconnexion to which we are subject could create “a third hemisphere in our brain”. New uses on the web, such as likes or tweets1, are now considered as communication methods in their own right. Social networks, places of exchange, are becoming more heterogeneous and more than ever a channel between the virtual and the real. At this stage, it is necessary to analyse the behaviours that we can observe in the phases of production, consumption and data exchange.

The data produced

> Natural production

As we mentioned earlier, we have become data producers through the democratization of digital technology in our daily lives. We produce information, sometimes without paying attention to it, in the form of raw data. Even if 80% of the French are aware that they are generating a digital trace, 70% do not plan to change their behaviour and their use of digital tools. At first sight, we could think that this type of use reflects an uncontrolled management and production of personal data. For example, geolocation, credit card payments and the use of search engines are behaviours that generate data on our lifestyles. However, some develop a controlled and thoughtful production of their data. They then become a means of communicating about yourself.

> Personal production

We had no idea of counting our number of friends, Facebook taught us to do so. We didn’t measure the number of kilometres covered during the day, Fitbit does it for us. This method of data production is not only a fad, it is the emergence and anchoring of a new type of human behaviour. What interests do we have to be the creator of a digital self? The practice of quantifiedself can be seen as a need to know oneself and a need to control one’s personal data from their manufacture to their distribution. This data is a way to create a virtual identity for yourself and others. It is the realization of an encrypted self-portrait: the data becomes our digital mirror. As a result, some are trying to better control their digital identity. A study by the Pew Institute reveals that one in two American teenagers would disable the geolocation of their smartphone for better control of their data. Can a balance be found in the production of our personal data? data production requires new needs and uses: understanding, knowledge, comparison and competition. Not only are we creators of our data, but we are also readers of the data of others. Our expectations and needs in terms of digital reading have changed considerably. Today, we want more fast and synthetic data in order to read as much as possible. The emergence of data-journalism in the largest French dailies, combined with a greater use of computer graphics to describe a political or economic situation, raises questions about our media reading and analysis behaviours. The consumption of information changes to consumption of data. British data-journalist David McCandless understands the importance of taking a step back from raw data to create data-notifications. “We are changing scale, there is always information, but it is more interrelated. Knowledge is that: it is the connection of information to each other” Tomorrow, we may seek to tame what is not measurable today, such as mood, conviction or motivation. Already, some Curricula Vitae take the form of computer graphics that group together and cross-reference all the raw data that can be mastered and used on oneself.

The synthetic data

The use of smartphones and tablets has transformed our relationship into reading and searching for information. Indeed, the need for synthetic and understandable data has become a new way of consuming data. 

Through brief information, today’s readers have become true experts in information monitoring. The latter is defined as the set of strategies put in place to keep informed while devoting as little time as possible to it and using automated reporting processes. Talking about information monitoring for the mobile user is still a recent development. In fact, it has become more democratic and has become a daily social behaviour, particularly through the use of smartphones. As a consumer of data, the user of mobile interfaces has almost ritualized his relationship to information. Through this continuous and iterative activity, it carries out both passive monitoring, allowing massive data collection (particularly through notifications), and active monitoring, promoting the precise search for information. 

It is possible to consider such behaviour with other ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) such as the computer or connected objects. This type of behaviour is therefore not specific to the smartphone: it is simply more visible in our daily lives. The need for synthetic data is inherent in this new consumption of information.

However, this does not prevent us from creating a particularly large amount of data. So much so that today, scientists tend to reconsider the functions of human DNA no longer as a simple memory of our genetic heritage, but as a memory of our digital data. 

According to Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, respectively journalist and professor at Oxford University, “the amount of information available is such that, if it were distributed among all Earthlings, each would receive 320 times more than the Alexandria collection: in all, 1200 exabytes (millions of terabytes). If we recorded everything on CDs, they would form five batteries, each capable of connecting the Earth to the Moon. The theorist Russell L. Ackoff had noticed that from a certain amount of data, the amount of information decreases and becomes mathematically nil. This is the algebraic translation of the adage “too much information destroys information”. This arithmetic reflection is verified in the selection and numerical processing of the data. It is all the more complex and random when it comes to humans, because information then becomes dependent on attention, as well as on all emotional and emotional factors. Therefore, in humans, information becomes first a reason and then a motivation. Meaningless information is useless for the human receiver, even if it is acceptable to a robot. 

Similarly, information that is meaningful but not driven by psychological energy is sterile.

In the process that leads from data to action in humans (data > information > knowledge > knowledge > meaning > motivation), only the first two steps are taken into account in the formulation of classical information theory. As information theorist Kevin Bronstein confirms, the computer defines information according to only two values: the number of bits and the organization of sèmes (minimum unit of meaning in linguistics). Conversely, the psyche involves dynamic factors such as passion, motivation, desire or even repulsion, which give life to psychological information. The growing need to understand data in an instant is causing the massive emergence of a new expectation: speed, both from a technological point of view, but also with regard to data.

Instant data

It is not uncommon to see people lose their self-control when faced with a computer that is too unresponsive. A study conducted by Crucial, an agency specializing in digital storage and memory issues, shows that nearly one in two French people admit to having physically or verbally attacked their computer in the past six months. In addition, 62.4% of French people feel angry when their computer is not working properly and 26.4% feel powerless. Other studies tend to show that we are as impatient with access to information as with the reading of the data itself, and it is now essential to understand the immediacy of the data. Phocuswright’s study for Travel Site Performance reveals that 8% of travel site visitors will abandon their navigation if a page takes between 1 and 2 seconds to display. If the page load persists for one more second, this number increases to 16%, then to 31% between 3 and 4 seconds and finally to 43% when the waiting time exceeds 4 seconds. The analysis of the user experience therefore shows that today, response time has become an essential ergonomic factor. Jean-François Nogier, a specialist in ergonomics and web design, says that “response time affects the usability of the software in two ways. On the one hand, it is a stress factor. Anxiety of use increases when the response time increases and there is no display to inform him of current treatments. On the other hand, response time increases the workload because it forces the user to make efforts to keep in memory the information necessary to continue his task. Jakob Nielsen, also a specialist in IT ergonomics, adds that “the reactivity of an interface optimizes the performance of the user who does not have to make an effort to memorize, while giving him the feeling of having control. After a second, the user has the impression of waiting. A loading time of a few seconds on a site is therefore enough to give it a bad impression. If the wait is repeated, the user may leave the site,” says psychiatrist Jean Cottraux, “we live in a culture of zapping generation impulsiveness. Impatience is therefore a phenomenon that must be taken into account when disseminating data. We consume data anytime, anywhere, quickly and in large quantities. All these behaviours force companies to rethink digital content, tools and services. 

Datavisualization is one of the new ways to meet these emerging social needs: speed and accessibility.

Understanding the data

In his book “Does the Internet make you stupid? “, the American author Nicholas Carr questions the impact of the electronic environment on our mental state and social behaviour. Our brain, which is extremely adaptable, quickly becomes familiar with new technologies. Before the digital revolution, it was thus adapted to the birth of writing and then printing. Our brain activity has gradually changed. We are no less intelligent, we think differently. In 2009, Gary Small, a researcher at the University of California, compared the brain activity of novice Internet users with that of experienced Internet users when using a search engine. He found that the more experienced ones stimulated more areas of their brains.

The digitization of our daily lives has transformed our brains in many ways. In 2011, Professor Betsy Sparrow and his team of psychologists at Colombia University demonstrated that our brains record the path to information more easily than the information itself, demonstrating that our visiospatial memory (the ability to remember the path taken in space) has been improved. However, it should not be overlooked that the cognitive modeling of memory information remains more difficult to build. Indeed, the use of the Internet makes long-term memorization more difficult. The multiplication of simultaneous tasks is becoming a powerful cognitive practice in this digital environment. Nevertheless, several studies have shown that our brains are not fully prepared to handle multitasking, so we can wonder about the role of the Internet in improving our cognitive abilities. The work of Jérôme Dinet, a professor of psychology, shows that the most connected individuals would be best able to modify their mental mechanisms and knowledge in order to adapt to new situations. Francis Eustache, Director of Research at INSERM, wonders if “Internet users will not develop new skills that will enable them to improve their working memory in this type of situation. This is not at all impossible, particularly by developing rapid strategies that allow them to order the importance of the information to be memorized.

The transmission and memorization of knowledge is also disrupted by the mass of data available online. “The profusion of information on the Internet can be a delusion, because knowledge needs to be appropriate and not just available. Having libraries or sites filled with mathematical theorems at your fingertips does not replace the knowledge you have acquired,” says Emmanuel Sander, professor of psychology. However, the Internet does not seem to favour this acquisition. On the contrary, new technologies create a new problem for attention, a cognitive process essential for learning. It is indeed difficult for our brain to distinguish between what is important and what is not. It is particularly complicated to focus your attention during a learning process. For the Internet to be beneficial to learning, researchers such as Nicole Boubée from the University of Toulouse, or Jean-François Rouet, Director of Research at the CNRS, believe that it is necessary to provide an education and pedagogy of the web. Datavisualization can thus be considered as a solution allowing the transmission and learning of important data.