Monday, November 11, 2013

The Data Tree

The official from the Department of Trees stopped by the old farmer's home. "I'm here," he said, "to cut down some trees."

The farmer reluctantly pulled walked out the front door into the yard. He had seen this happen before, and he wasn't optimistic.

"Okay," he said. "which ones have to go?"

The official checked his tablet. "We've been collecting extensive data, so we know which of your trees have been most successful. We'll be chopping down all the others that did not earn a highly effective rating. Starting with this one." And he pointed to one of the oldest trees in the yard.

The farmer scratched his head. "How do you figure that tree needs to be chopped down?"

"Oh, our data is extensive," said the official. "We've tracked the number of fruit produced for the past decade, and this tree lags far behind."

"Well, yes," said the farmer. "That tree is old and doesn't produce many apples these days. But see that tree house up in the branches? Both my kids used to play in that, and now when my grandchildren come to visit, they play there, too. You should hear them laugh when they're up there together. Sound lights up the whole house."

"That may be," said the official. "But we only collect data on the number of fruit. We can't measure anything about happiness or joy, so those data are unimportant." He walked through the yard. "This one, too. It goes."

The farmer stopped in his tracks. "But that's the tree with the swing. My wife and I used to sit out there every evening, drinking cider and going back over the day while the wind blew soft through those branches. That tree's full of experience and memories."

"Be that as it may," said the official, not looking up from his tablet. "The data says the tree is ineffective. It must go."

The official strolled a bit further, then gestured with a bit more energy at a gnarled old monstrosity of a tree. "Cheer up, old timer. It's not all bad news. Our data says that this tree here is highly effective. According to the data, it's highly productive."

"That?" The farmer smiled in spite of himself. "That's a crabapple tree. Hundreds of apples come off that and you can't eat a one of them."

"Well, sir, we aren't able to quantify any of that data. We can only measure quantity, so that's what matters. This tree is your best one on the lot."

"Son," said the farmer. "You are a damned fool. The world is filled with a million kinds of trees for a million kinds of uses. Why you would want to ignore all that just because it doesn't make neat numbers for your computer program is beyond me, but just because you intend to lead such a sad, blinkered life doesn't mean you get to cut down my whole orchard. Get yourself on out of here."

The official might have protested harder as he left, but the truth was, it was his last day on the job and he wouldn't have to deal with any of this ever again. He could hardly wait to start his new work for the Department of Education.

No comments:

Post a Comment