Monday, April 11, 2005

Measurements and Such

One of the things that I've discovered I have a real interest in is the statistical analysis of real life phenomena. In all likelihood, this has lots more to do with the following fantasy basketball than anything else, but I've also found a very comfortable place for it in my real life job. Which involves a lot of data analysis. Naturally.

So here's the thing. I wanted to make it one of goals to develop a relatively sophisticated understanding of the numbers and statistics associated with the activity of moviegoing. I'm hoping that by applying my totally untrained and uninformed number crunching faculties and creating some extremely useful and meaninful models, that I'll have access to insights about operating a movie theater that most people will not have.

And I feel like I'm pretty close to a breakthrough on this. But there are a couple of things holding me back. I figure the first thing I need is some unifying philosophy about the numbers that I can use to focus my thinking. These would hopefully be very similar to those that people hold about life, i.e. sharing is nice, destroying is easy, things that are hard are good, stuff like that. I, of course, haven't come up with this unifying philosophy yet. It's possible that my lack of formal schooling in this arena is the bottleneck. I'm guessing it has more to do with the fact that I'm just not that smart.

But that's not the only thing. I have this genuine fascination with the idea of being data driven, but then when I turn around and see things that I perceive to be data driven, too often my reaction is irritated. I see people explaining things in terms of the numbers and variables and totally ignoring the fact that these situations have complexities that don't relate to numbers. This is all getting very abstract, so let me provide an example.

The other night, my friends (who are still writing papers in college) were trying to explain some economic technique or concept about driving the economy through employment to me and something about it sounded wrong. My first attempt to try to justify the alarm went off was laughed off as me trying to use words that were bigger than I actually understood. That part was true, but so was my argument.

My protest was that jobs were a unit of "good" in this equation. And sociologically that doesn't make sense to me. Lots of people hate their jobs, and I've heard more than one person describe their work as soul sucking. But that doesn't stop them from being grateful for them. And it's all because the academics who saw the data said jobs were a good thing (ok that's not the only reason, but it's part of it). I'm sure when the thoughts were first had, the originator surveyed the state of things and saw jobs were everywhere that good stuff was happening so made the natural connection. The natural wrong connection. One thing about measuring data is that if you don't look deep enough, you can mistake symptoms for sources. Which is why the same understanding of data when analyzing the past isn't always applicable to projecting or trying to drive the future.

So in the meantime, I'm working on my ideas about how to understand the numbers, and will be adding some incomplete but hopefully partially insightful notions on how this applies to the movie theater business. And for anyone who was a real academic in college (or just everyday life) and knows more about this stuff than I do, please don't hesitiate to help me along. :)


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