I have made a semi-living of working with computers, and more specifically data. In a manner of speaking, I understand computers, data patterns, and intrinsic trends far better than I comprehend most humans. Those cold, unfeeling, extremely logical machines and mathematical algorithms are easy to work with. Teasing knowledge from the results, in other words finding patterns, is a matter of seeing the perspective of cause and effect. Businesses throughout the world are constantly trying to enhance their comprehension of this voodoo-like skill. So what is a nature-loving Pagan, Polytheist Druid doing in a career like this? Honestly, I have come to ask myself this very question from time to time. Much like trend analysis, the answers are not always to come by.
I started in my path to computers in late 1981. I was enrolled at Montgomery Catholic High School in Alabama. My parents weren’t Catholic, but their perception was that Catholic schools were the best that education had to offer. I am not sure that such logic was sound, but that is just my perception nearly forty years later. A small room behind the principal’s office held a bank of personal computers. I cannot remember all the computers that were there, but I would spend countless hours after school playing on these machines. I was fascinated that keystrokes on a keyboard would load a program that would allow for input from the same keyboard to simulate movements and other actions. After the end of the school year in 1982, my sophomore year, we moved to Shreveport, Louisiana where I was enrolled in Loyola College Preparatory School for Boys, another private Catholic high school. Here, the school had an entire room full of Apple //e computers, where I learned some of the fundamental concepts of programming. I learned that one could bend a computer system to their will by issuing a set of commands. At that point I was hooked.
After a failed attempt at college, I joined the United States Air Force in 1986, and started learning about mainframes two years later. My first system was a UniSys 1100 Level 60 mainframe, which was the data processing unit at Carswell Air Force Base. Coincidentally, this was also about the time that I started into Paganism. Seemingly, these two worlds would be at polar opposites within my life – one oriented to cold, hard logic; and the other focused on the warmth and feeling of being alive within Nature. The reality, it turned out, was a little different for me.
Learning About Data
Early on, I realized that computers were merely tools, much like my staff. The magic of the algorithms working calculations were human eyes could not see, and producing a set of results that could be consumed by those same eyes were still the same thing – data. From thos early days to today, data has become an increasingly more defined aspects of our lives. Our gender, eye color, hair color, ethnicity/race, height, weight, birthdate, birthplace, education level of our parents, our ability to speak English, the scores we made on our entrance exams for writing, math, and ability to read — all of that can be correlated into data points within a collegiate environment. Combined together, these data points can provide a composite understanding of who you are. Business decisions are made by subject-matter departments, grant programs, advising groups, student-life coordinators, and state-level Education departments concerning that data. How many students of a particular age group are there? In that group, how many are in a sub-group based on ethnic/race? And in that group, how many are in the gender categories that the student self-identified as? How does that compare to the same semester period from last year? The last five years? is there a trend? Does that trend quantify the initiation of a grant program geared towards this demographic of student? And that’s just from a collegiate perspective. Imagine all the same data points in a business environment and all the inference that goes into that? But is it enough?
Being a Pagan, particularly a Pagan that practices my beliefs as an individual, I have come to understand that no matter the identical nature of gathered demographic information, no two people are alike. And demographic information only allow for “educated guesses” to a certain point. If you have sixty-five white males between the ages of thirty to forty-five, you have an identified group based on those measures, but those are sixty-five INDIVIDUALS. Maybe thirty of them like to play online Role Playing Games (RPGs). Of those thirty, maybe ten of them are married. Of those ten, two are married to individuals of another ethnic/racial group. One of them is in a straight, heterosexual relationship, and the other is in a same-sex relationship. And even breaking these people down to this level really does not speak to who they are. Who they REALLY are.
Data = Information = Dehumanizing
This eternally break down of information into a series of groupings, so as to identify trends within various groups created by a wide range of definitions is understandable. Its a concept built around maximizing profit. In world driven by a constant need to stay ahead of marketing trends, and find the next group of identifiable prospective buyers of a product, trend analysis is the necessary fuel to get the product into the right place at the right time. To be able to glean that particular insight is known as “Business Intelligence” or if you prefer a lighter term, “information”. Data points are pulled together to determine factors that can allow for the maximization of target advertising, which is meant to entice these folks to purchase said product. For instance, if you like basketball, and your demographic falls into that marketing aspect that has been identified as a major target, Nike will make it seem that everyone else that is similar to you is buying these particular shoes. Don’t you want to be like them? There are even marketing ploys for non-conformists such as myself. There are data points that suggest a style of marketing towards people like me. Data utilized in this manner works into a very capitalist fashion.
Data does not have to be utilized in such a demeaning way. Some demographic information can identify individuals that could qualify for specific aid packages for collegiate education. Many potential students feel college is out of their reach because of the cost. They do not always realize that there are grants available to them to help pay the costs of their education, which will not require them to pay these monies back. There are specific criteria that need to be met, but many prospective students see a stigma attached to such “handouts”. Others are just not aware of the opportunity and thus never apply. Those that are not aware can be easily made aware through education efforts. The other; however, is a touch more difficult to change. But certainly, there are data points that can be uncovered there to help with changing that perspective. What those patterns are, I am not sure but I would certainly be game to find out.
Data, seen at a high overview perspective – otherwise known as the 50,000 foot view, can be dehumanizing. Individuals are essentially data points. Data points combined and grouped together on various definitions become percentages. Those percentages than become a slice of pie in a pie chart. Essentially just numbers. Forty-two percent of the students enrolled this semester have a goal of transferring out to a four-year university. What can we do to encourage these students to achieve just one-year certificates prior to their transferring out? Well, maybe some of that forty-two percent will be transferring out because they know their job is about to be changed from this location to another. A one-year certificate chase is not going to do those students any good. When you drill-down from the high-level perspective and start looking into the individuals – you find the stories that really mean something: the reasons behind their drive to getting an education. You can’t see that at the 50,000 foot level. To really understand the numbers, you have to understand the individuals and know what places them in that category you have created, as well as the things about them that are not defined in that category. Data points are people. When you forget about the people aspect, data points become numbers. And there’s no humanity in the numbers. Again, Paganism taught me to look at the individual because the individual perspective matters.
What if the Gods Were Data-Driven
Before I bring this all to a close, but here is something to consider. There are many people that work with the Gods. What if the Morrigan were data-driven in Her approach to everyone that works with Her? X percentage of the followers are female, so let’s make the overall message oriented solely to a female perspective. Shit, the males that make up Y percentage can just suck it. Now I am not saying that this is what happens. I don’t follow the Morrigan, but She has quite the wide following. Would you want to follow a God or Goddess that just mailed it in when dealing with you? You know, followed a rote script when interacting with you.
This is the Morrigan. You have reached the worshiper hot-line. Please deposit your sacrifice in the box on the left, and your worship request in writing in the box on the right. An initiate will be with you shortly.
Why not? Data-driven decisions were made to shore up the response time of the Morrigan by using this methodology. That way, more people making requests can get through the line faster. Nothing turns off a devotee faster than a long line at the altar. And we just can’t have those devotees moving on to another God or Goddess, right? Right? Of course not. We develop one-on-one relationships with our Gods, just as anyone else that develops a relationship with their chosen $Deity does. Our own Spirituality teaches us the value of one-on-one relationships, not just with our Gods but with each other. We can all be lumped together into little piles of Druids, Wiccans, Heathens, and what have you…but in the end, that’s just categorization…labeling, if you will. And it only holds a certain amount of value. I’ll say it again…Data Points are People. And those individual, one-on-one relationships are far meaningful.
Just one Pagan, Polytheist druid’s opinion….