I remember the first time I heard this phrase – I was in fourth grade and one of the older classes in my school put on a play that in retrospect was completely ridiculous and silly, but I wasn’t quite as critical when I was 9. It was a series of scenes designed to exemplify the law of GIGO: garbage in / garbage out. The scenes got more obvious until they finally explained the whole thing in a terrible song & dance number at the end so even the slow kids could get it (I didn’t get it myself until I heard the song).
So what have I learned since then? Well I found it’s like gravity – once you notice it, you see it working everywhere. It’s easy to think of computers as magic; a big nebulous black box that does stuff way too complicated to explain. That’s only partially true, of course… yes it’s too much to explain quickly, but computers are nowhere near smart enough to correct sloppiness, muddy thinking or poor planning. This to me is the big lesson if GIGO.
Organization is what it comes down to for me. Programmers and database guys learn real early on that there’s a big difference between throwing your ideas together and a carefully planned approach. More average users are starting to discover the same laws – people with years of emails are starting to notice that old messages are getting harder to find. Anyone who’s been online for long will know the frustration of trying to find that bookmark they know they have, only it’s lost in the mish-mash of poorly organized folders.
So what’s my point? As we trundle on towards an increasingly digital world, the laws of GIGO will eventually catch up to everyone. I could have titled this ‘gigo – not just for nerds anymore’. More and more companies are storing all their critical information in databases large and small, but how many users are being taught how to cultivate the data? Every database administrator knows of the prevalence of junk data in systems as they age, and it’s a real problem. Everyone who uses a computer should learn how to clean up after themselves and ensure they are conscientious about their information.
Think of your computer or database as a finicky car, and the data is the fuel. Make sure it’s pure, and you’ll get great performance and avoid a lot of breakdowns.
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