Why I like data

A while ago I saw this comic, which shows a part of a job interview. To translate what’s being said for those who don’t understand Dutch: “What is your biggest passion?” “Making pivot tables in Excel.” “I meant outside of working hours.” “Oh excuse me, you meant that. … Making pivot tables in Excel.” Although this is of course a joke, I too like using Excel for all kinds of stuff. Right now I have a file to keep track of my job applications and interesting new vacancies, a file with character stats for a mobile game I play (yup) and I still often show people the massive and detailed file I created in Google Spreadsheets to keep track of my budget while travelling. I like data.

While working on random and relatively useless data files I sometimes stop to think about why I actually enjoy having such data. Many people I know have a certain aversion to anything related to numbers and other data, but I seem to find comfort in it. Perhaps it just clears my mind a bit, since having a list means I don’t actually have to remember everything on it. I can just look at the file if I need to remember a specific thing. On top of that, collecting data can provide a lot of knowledge about for example where my money is going and how long my budget will last. Of course I can roughly estimate such things even without the data, but it’s great when I don’t have to think and worry about it. My files ‘know’ things, and knowledge is pretty nice to have at hand.

Still, that doesn’t really explain why I would put effort and time into something I don’t actually need. If the end result is basically useless knowledge, why try getting there in the first place? What do I like about the process, about collecting and analysing data? I think this is where I may differ a bit more from everyone else, so I’m sorry if you can’t relate to this much. I’m someone who really enjoys patterns, puzzles, games and riddles, and data is simply a massive code to crack. Working on finding the solution can sometimes be annoying and agitating, but knowing I’ve made a step in the right direction is a always little victory to me. Thinking about something for an extended amount of time and finally figuring it out is simply very, very rewarding – even if the thing I figured out isn’t actually that interesting at all.

There’s one more reason analysing data makes me feel at ease and comfortable: the feeling of control. I like to be on top of things, to have an overview of everything going on. I don’t necessarily have to be in charge, but I dislike it when something happened without me knowing about it. Travelling definitely enabled me to let go a bit more, but I still like being in control. Data provides me with both an overview of everything going on and the knowledge that if I change something, I’ll know what the consequences will be. There’s always a certain logic or pattern to numbers, so it’s something I can control – as long as I know the rules. Maybe being in control of something useless makes me feel okay about not being in control of other, more important things. Because even with a lot of data, predictions and estimates, the future remains unknown. And even if it’s comfortable to ‘know’ things in advance, the best things in life are unexpected.

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