Calling all teens: Become a data detective

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Just by living our plugged-in lives, each of us is producing a constant stream of data. Little snippets are left behind of what we search, what we buy, where we go, what we tweet … This endless flow of numbers is referred to as “big data,” data sets so large that they require sophisticated parsing to give them meaning. But big data has the potential to tell us a lot about ourselves — unearthing patterns in information flow, energy consumption, weather patterns, disease spread, education trends, and more.

At first glance, big data may not sound like a topic for teenagers. But TED speaker Rick Smolan is on a mission to make it not just accessible but fun. Smolan — who held a conference called The Human Face of Big Data in New York City a few weeks ago featuring TED alums Juan Enriquez, Deb Roy, Esther Dyson, Aaron Koblin and Jer Thorp — is asking students between the ages of 13 and 18 to become “Data Detectives.”

For anyone in the age range, becoming a Data Detective is easy. By answering a 20-question online survey, you’ll be helping to build a data set that will allow you to compare themselves to other teens all over the world. Some sample questions from the survey: “Are you more like your mother or father?” “How do your parents discipline you for bad behavior?” “How do you get to school: by bus, public transportation, limo, donkey, or skateboard?” The survey is anonymous and takes about 10 minutes to complete. Take the Data Detective survey here >>

By participating now, you won’t see much happen. But over the next few weeks, as more and more students donate their information and time too, the data will compound. On November 12, the Data Detectives website will be open for business, allowing you and other students to visualize the data in real time, with explosive animation by R/GA.

The juiciest insights from the data set will also be shared at TEDYouth on November 17 in New York City, as well as at the 100+ TEDxYouthDay events happening worldwide the same week.

Hey, it’s a detective job that doesn’t even require a magnifying glass.