By Demetrius Mitchell August 2016 Issue
The modern era of collecting, compiling, analyzing, and producing raises questions in every part of our lives affected by numerical values. In sports it is referred to as analytics: the use of statistical values to make decisions. Instead of face to face meetings, the current trend is to cancel out the middle man by making the decision based solely on the production numbers of the athlete. This system analyzes not only the overall statistics but the circumstance of the statistic. Who, what, when, where, and how are the focus points. For example, if Player 1 and Player 2 produce identical statistical results at the end of a given game, the superior player is the one who is most efficient by using less chances. Which makes sense in the given context but the issue older ballplayers are having is how to quantify presence. In the world of evenly-matched sports teams it seems unfair to simply cast a player off due to a lack of efficiency, especially if the player is a proven winner.
Seasons ago, The NFL raved about a young quarterback with a relatively high efficiency rating for a player with his experience. The pundits suggested if he played a whole season the results would be fantastic. Using analytics to gauge his ability in the NFL from just a few starts as a professional, along with his collegiate career created an unfillable void. The expectation built a huge amount of pressure
around a young player who was robbed of a proper chance to prove his ability and is currently no longer playing. Thus the concern with overusing stats as a primary tool in acquiring and coaching players is at an all-time high. This is largely due the access everyone has in counting and compiling information.
There are records and statistics of what we do every day—from phone calls, to steps taken at any given period throughout the day.
The conglomerates that provide products push this sense of reliance on gadgets to manage our daily activities. For the most part it has greatly improved the way we communicate. Families are able to stay in touch with less effort, emergency situations are managed better, and information is now fingertip accessible. It’s not good news for print but great for people that do not have access to print in a timely manner. The web allows that same person to stay as informed as anybody in any city around the world. In sports, the new fascination with statistical analysts to make decisions does not account for abnormalities, or the “hot hand” in a given situation. The winning spirit of an athlete does not come into play as it is hard to quantify courage and resolve. Mathematically, sports typically do not have enough statistical data to constitute making a valid decision on how a player will perform on a given night. Statistics would never account for a player such as LeBron James to not shoot a shot in the final five minutes of a playoff game; or Steph Curry to be 1 for 5 from three as the best shooter in the history of basketball.
Other factors come into play because no player stays at a consistent medium long enough to create the data needed to predict the outcome. If it were such a guarantee no one with a computer would lose a bet. The point spread system would be infallible and everyone would come up with the same result. “Nothing is fair in love and war,” meaning there is no way to guarantee victory without a complete mismatch, and even then miracles will occur. This highlights the importance of coaching, discretion, and interpretation. Analytics takes the power out of the hands of experts, subsidizing years of labor and learning to save money. Money, the driving force behind the Analytics Movement, is creating a prison of efficiency in an industry built on unforgettable moments. The unpredictability of sports is the reason we watch. No one wants to know every move or point scored in a game, as it completely defeats the purpose of watching or participating in the competition. Professional sports should be intense and unforgiving. On any given Sunday either team can win, even if one is a severe underdog we watch for the miracle.
Analytics is getting a bad rap in the sports world. Although the possibility of using that type of statistical deduction to make macro-decisions might be a great benefit to society, the key difference in these two situations is the amount of data available. In sports the biggest teams are American Football teams, with about 53 players on a roster. There are about 32 teams that each play 16 games inside of a 17-week season. By comparison, a small city has a few hundred thousand people creating statistical norms which have a greater success rate in populating a functioning mathematical expression. The problem with sports is that there’s just not enough data.
For generations politicians have been “protecting” our freedoms by doing all of the hard thinking because the public is not properly informed. Policy details remain the business of wealthy landowners, moguls, and conglomerates. Outside of local town hall meetings, or working on a particular incentive, the public has little impact on most critical policy changes. We vote on whether or not a person is elected. Maybe we will decide if a park or library gets built. Whether or not a dangerous drug will be legal, or if we will participate in a war has nothing to do with us, the public.
The surviving reason for this wrinkle in the American political fabric is logistics. The political leaders of past constitutions figured the population as a whole was basically illiterate, so involving them in complicated issues was to no benefit of the nation. Systems of exclusion were instituted to control the final decisions politicians made, with the blessing of the wealthy. The general public’s vote has always been counted toward the success of one elected official over another but rarely to affect policies directly. In a nation of the people, for the people, the people can only choose people. We must then trust this person to do whatever it is they say they can to get more votes. This same person, once inducted into the flow of politics, must now meet with wealthy people to discuss the “important” issues of society. Since wealthy business owners, whose main objective is to protect their investments, didn’t need the benefits of social reform, public education, and health care, they rarely showed any concern in dealing with the job of governing the public’s interest into a functioning society.
This exclusion led to generations of classist racists who used land ownership, race, sex, and education to divide the people. Politicians then convinced the public that the political process was too complicated to be completely in the hands of the people so they allowed them to pick a representative to speak on behalf of their best interests. Voting became a dog and pony show, a competition between vague ideas that were supposed to be configured into viable policies to benefit public interest. Politicians are chosen to be the peoples’ representatives because the task of informing them about policy details and collecting/counting votes would corrupt the political process. Although the process was sold as a way to get a political process rolling by working effectively with local leaders to keep the populace informed, this is exclusion of the highest order. Not only are certain demographics denied from voting, they will take the votes received to pick a politician that has the people’s interests at heart. A hundred years ago this might not be such a hard sell. White landowners were the only people allowed to vote, excluding women. A system to born to deny rather than liberate is not designed to be efficient but rather survives on inefficiency. The ever-growing bureaucracy wrapped in mountains of meaningless paper occupies a large percentage of the government’s operational capacity, creating a funnel of opportunity in the interests of generational wealth. Due to the overwhelming volume of public interests, it is only natural that the political powers that be only have quality communication with the wealthy. Contact creates the forum that allows someone to be an influence on a politician. Wealthy lobbyists donate more money to “political issues” than they pay in taxes to a particular candidate or party. It is the wealthy who offer up their homes and dining halls to host political events with 10k plates to get a seat at a table with a valuable politician.
Fast forward to 2016, an era when everyone has a super-computer in their pocket that counts, calculates, and relates billions of data bits daily. Our phones and tablets are more powerful than all computers built before the 2000’s combined. Furthermore, our phones have access to a cloud drive and a cloud computing system which places the power of mega-servers at the user’s fingertips. We record and analyze everything we do. So in this modern era of digital quantification why can we not count individual votes for a political election? The public is now informed beyond comprehension with the 24-hour news cycle and free access to the internet. The amount of digital information fed into our lives is astonishing and growing in volume daily. We have now developed vast networks of social media and self-help applications to manage our daily activities. Our phone is usually the first and last thing we pick up, touch, or read. So why doesn’t society use this new connectivity to make lives better as a whole instead of individual progress? If our current systems are safe enough to complete banking transactions, school assignments, and personal mail, why can we not use these same systems to participate in government?
Today’s politics increasingly uses race, social economic status, and stereotypes to sway opinion. Politicians market themselves to demographics or groups rather than citizens. Individual citizens have to choose a group that appeals to their way of living rather than the changes they believe will promote progress. Corporations, unions, church organizations, and manufacturers manipulate facts to gain support from people they “represent.” Modern politics blends personal prejudices and social dynamics to promote feeling instead of reasoning. People feel a certain way about certain political situations but have no opinion or reason to define their feeling. Facts rarely come into play when politics are involved. It is the only remaining part of our society that relies on pure opinion to constitute real world facts. We have become the future society promised by science fiction writers, but the problem is that recreational computing is more advanced than our entire political process. One day the entire governing body will be reduced to management algorithms which will take into account individual perceptions, statistical norms, and abnormalities. Governments around the world will have to account for these types of possibilities in the near future, as the power of nations returns to the hands of the people.
In a future of reduce, reuse, recycle, renew, self-sustain and creation, what could a governing body provide for the people? If water, food, and energy can be accessed through the private sector – which is becoming increasingly populated by smaller businesses – our greatest function as a government would be the operations of war as the issues of our country fade into obscurity. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to actually vote, as a people, on the issues of war and public policy? The only things holding us back from a liquid smooth political process are the hordes of zombie politicians that terrorize the political countryside.
Jobs in politics are very rewarding in the modern system of satisfying lobbyists and bigwig donors. These people are using the inadequacy of the system to keep their jobs which have a low turnover rate and are usually protected by a set block of time before they can be challenged or audited. “One hand washes the other,” is a famous quote alluding to the notion of protecting your own to protect yourself. Concepts like these are good for private enterprise but are a severe injustice in the world of public service. If the data doesn’t exist, or isn’t being quantified how can we make proper decisions based on facts and not opinion? Introducing analytics into politics using the public’s data would dissolve political bias. Direct voting would revolutionize the political landscape. Calculating public opinion would be as simple as the touch of a button from a coffee shop. People have a valid opinion but feel it doesn’t matter because they are either red or blue. Analytics would give the power to the people and promote a politically active society. Why should we leave it up to a stranger, a “politician,” to figure out what we need or want as a society?