data natives

We hear a lot of marketing yammer about “digital natives”, that is, folks fluent in social media and in particular marketing using social media. Writers who use this term often juxtapose such digital natives against “analog natives”, i.e., individuals who matured or were educated before online social media became such a significant part of our lives. These writers often imply that such analog natives are unable to understand the world today. This is of course ridiculous; anyone with an open mind and tenacity can develop marketing skill with social media.

I offer a different grouping of individuals that might be considered an analog (pun intended) of digital nativity: “data natives”. By this I mean individuals fluent in using heterogeneous numerical and textual data sources, along with mathematical techniques, to reach conclusions about many facets of their lives and work.

Consider the following example: When I was shopping for a used RV trailer recently, I needed to filter out trailers from the pool of candidates that were too heavy for my truck to pull. However, used RV listings only specified length of the RV trailers, rather than the weight. Therefore I used regression analysis to predict weight from length based on about twenty known length-weight data points. This simple example illustrates a data native’s approach to solving problems.

In my usage of the phrase, “data native” is meant to be a more comprehensive designation than “data scientist”, though certainly there is crossover between the two. In using the word “native” I’m implying an intimate comfort with data and data-driven decision making, like immersion in and skill with data flows like one’s mother tongue. Data science is a job, data native is a way of being.

For now, data natives are as rare as data scientists. But the new world of Big Data is producing both at a rapid clip. This will likely enrich the world.

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