Data, like oxygen, matters to life

Abdulwarees Solanke

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Under the COVID-19 lockdown, when all of us have to depend on social media tools to access or exchange information, one word that is now of common usage is Data.

It is not that we did not know this word before; our relationship with it mostly had to do with facts and figures, information, numbers, files, records or documents.

I relate with data more in the realm of research and statistics in economics, population and demographic studies, as well as in all branches of knowledge and human affairs including medicine and health, employment and productivity, that we need to gather and correlate information for decision making in the critical development of public affairs issues.

But today, data is in the dictionary of everybody. From the roadside mechanic to the street trader, data is the in-thing.

I began to pay significant attention to data as a common word when two telcos played on the word to advertise their service quality.

One said: Data is Oxygen and the other shouted, ‘Data is Life’. The two are of course related to nature.  According to the two telcos, data is crucial to our existence.

My concern today is not the technicalities of data but how it has become the driver of our lives; how it is assuming the content of our adrenalin or energy, how the quantum and quality of data empowers us or diminishes our pockets; how it is creating wealth for businesses and households, and expanding the frontiers of opportunities in the economy, how it is facilitating education and providing entertainment to the citizens as well as how it is influencing life choices and chances we have in the digital age.

In a world where the internet is everything about our lives, data becomes the energy, power or the fuel to enjoy all the possibilities it has to offer.

As the lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality of our lives and the real world, we all switched to the virtual world. But without data, our sojourn in this new world of digital transformation will be futile. We will be grounded.  So despite the lockdown, and because some are ‘data-wealthy,’ there is little boundary or none at all to connect with the rest of the world.

From the comfort of their homes, some could participate in international conferences. At least through the Zoom app, I was able to participate in two international conferences that originated from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia discussing the response to COVID-19.

I also was part of the University of Lagos Muslim Alumni Ramadan Lecture, last Sunday, just as I was part of the virtual audience of the Muslim Association of Nigeria UK Chapter Ramadan Lecture.

During the lockdown too, my Department moved to our virtual office as we took to our  WhatsApp platform for engaging sessions on how to impact more positively on the operations of our corporation. The very stimulating discussions we had, brought out the best in most members of staff,f with impressive submissions online.

But an equally fascinating engagement I had was with the Malaysia-based Nabeel Tirmazi, a broadcaster of excellence with knack for storytelling via WhatsApp.

Nabeel is a Programme Manager with the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development in Kuala Lumpur. Despite distance and time difference, our world merged into one as we shared reminiscences and experiences on broadcasting, looking at ways African and Asian broadcasters can benefit from each other in terms of broadcasting, content quality, production and sharing.

With these experiences, perhaps we may begin to measure poverty today in terms data access, affordability and consumption. This is because the one who cannot afford data is technically locked out of many opportunities that the internet offers and he is likely to suffer many deprivations of life.

This is because the more of it you can play with in terms of strength, quality, and affordability, the more, one’s capacity for exploration of the world of opportunities and empowerment.

In an era of the digital economy; data, like oxygen, indeed, matters to life now.