Steve, the light-pole-mounted data-collection sensor

Steve, the light-pole-mounted data-collection sensor (Tribune illustration / June 25, 2014)

When I heard about Chicago's new plan to gather "big data" by installing sensors all across the city, I felt a little nervous. Then I got this memo.

Now I feel just fine.

Sort of.

Greetings Chicagoans and visitors to Chicago:

I'm a light-pole-mounted, data-collection sensor. But you can call me Steve!

You may have read recently about me and my buddies, who are also named Steve. We'll soon be turning up on light poles along Michigan Avenue, in the Loop and in neighborhoods across Chicago, part of a humungo data-collection project called "Array of Things."

I voted for calling it "Bunches of Stuff" because it sounds fun and is even more vague than Array of Things. Oh well, nobody ever listens to Steve!

Anyhoo, me and the other Steves will be in your fine city to gather information. Light-intensity information, noise information, air-quality information. You know, the kind of data human nerd people like to wade through so they can figure out how a city works and maybe home in on ways to make it work better.

Now, if you ask me, I have no clue how measuring the light intensity in Bucktown teaches you how to make a city work better (maybe by advising people to put on sunglasses?), but knowing what to do with data isn't my job.

I just gather stuff up — gather gather gather. If you're a data point, ol' Steve and his buddies Steve, Steve and Steve are gonna gather you right up!

We'll look at wind speeds and precipitation and even gauge pedestrian traffic by sensing the mobile devices you're staring at as you walk past.

Now I've heard there are some nervous nellies out there worried we're going to "gather personal information" and "use it in some nefarious way" or "steal your identity" and "sell it to the highest bidder." That's just silly. Take it from our programmers — and the mayor's office — who have stated explicitly that we're NOT going to do anything like that.

Granted, that's just what a person about to do something exactly like that would say to reassure people, but in this case it's TOTALLY true. I promise. You can trust Steve. And please turn about 20 degrees to your left, I can't see your whole face.

There. Perfect.

Now where was I?

Oh, yeah, the fear of going about your lives without being constantly monitored by machines that store vast amounts of data in windowless warehouses and use that data for God knows what.

Forget about that!

And you know another thing you should forget about, Ron Stevens, of Hyde Park? That short-sleeve dress shirt you're wearing — ICK! Don't worry, I just ordered you a new shirt from Nordstrom's that's a bit more hip. Used your Visa card, hope you don't mind.

What were we talking about?

Privacy! That's right.