John Bird: Data overload, but nothing about how to make opposites attract

If we could get over our bitter squabbles, we could face a changing world together

am told that my children and all children should be analysing data. As preparation for the fourth industrial revolution. And perhaps something called econometrics. This is (presumably) to enable our children, and their children, to understand the workings of our increasingly computer-driven world.

If you know the workings of something, the language of something – and you can analyse it – then you’re much more likely to get a job out of it.

But will this bring us any nearer to understanding that divine piece of engineering, biology and complexity of our own bodies? Of how, and why, electrical signals fire through our bodies via incredibly complex systems of nerves?

If one were to expose the pipes, tunnels, wires and cables that make up a modern city – even of the most modern 21st-century mode – it wouldn’t come anywhere close to the complex balance of organelles, cells, tissues and organ systems of the body you sit in the middle of.

Our own ecosystem, which – once set in motion, if fed well and if it doesn’t have the problems from too difficult a birth – will run on and on, making all sorts of accommodations for any poor surroundings. It will act logically if we take in too much of one thing, or not enough of another. Smoking, fats and sugars will be accommodated, though eventually they’ll lead to a breakdown; though not after an incredible struggle by our interconnected organisms to try to adjust to our distorted tastes.

Life sciences, the science of life, and the study of the systems of living complexities must become one of the most important areas if we’re to make the most of the threats and opportunities that lie ahead. As we, in some ways, factor in our abuses of the world, the destruction of nature and our now completely changed lifestyles; lifestyles passed down by our ancestors in less-developed times.

This is why I’ve been banging on about the need to educate our school intakes about understanding the unique system that is the child itself. How it is as complex and exciting as any university, any megapolis, any empire, any human invention.

And that if we can get behind changing our pedagogy to fit tomorrow’s completely different world, then we will surely be quids in.


Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.

Unfortunately, the biggest hurdles lie in our thinking. Our dreamy wishfulness. Our idealism. Our lack of understanding of our own histories. Our divisions, to remain or leave, to recycle or dump, to save or squander, or whatever other else may separate us from developing a common, unified human mission.

I will not tell you too many details of a long argument I had recently. Suffice to say, it was of the remain-or-leave variety. I will not share with you if it was with a leaver or a remainer, but what I will tell you is the incredible bitterness of the opinion I heard about “those people” who dared to think about the EU referendum differently. And that such opposition was scum, wrong-headed, dishonest (and much worse).

Fortunately, I’ve grown through nationalism and internationalism, through left and right, through reactionary-ism and liberalism and I’ve come out the other end believing passionately that people are only as good as the anecdotes they choose to believe.

That, for all the talk about the next computer age, and how we could beat poverty through education, not that we have already, we continue to screw ourselves through our inabilities to find a way out of the labyrinth of outraged opinions.

And the fact that, because you’re only ever as good as the anecdotes you choose to believe – unless you get everyone else to believe the same anecdotes – your time and energy is consumed in a bitter, at times prejudicial and thoughtless, competition. A competition over resources. A competition over the “best” way of handling what’s wrong with the world.

I read a (very liberal) magazine article last week that clearly demonstrated that the title had absolutely no idea why people wanted to carry guns in the U. S. of A. But it did go on to make the point that a lot of people wishing for a firearm in their life feel that they’ve lost everything else – that they’d had all else taken from them.

Opposites: how do we bring them together? Where is the science, the data, the method, the magic, the cleverness – the fourth industrial revolution solution – to the yawning gap between two human opposites? Between people made of the same blood as one other, both enclosed in an armature called a body, each of them covered with the same pliable material we call skin.

What is the revolutionary answer to make these opposites attract? How do we converge humanity towards each other? Or will we be forever laden down with all of the accoutrements of the fourth industrial revolution, and all the world’s current hang-ups and hatreds?

Certainly, the vicious and vile struggle over Brexit, where no love is lost, is at times as clear an indication that we might more pressingly need a fourth industrial revolution of the heart.

I finished the article on America’s gun culture aware that blind people in Iowa are allowed to carry guns in public. Now, isn’t that a neat place to start a dialogue about how to change the world from the head up?