‘How I Learned to Stopped Worrying and Love the Numbers with Kai Ryssdal’ at Strathmore

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There was a special treat in Bethesda this week for regular listeners of NPR – to celebrate 25 years of Marketplace from American Public Media, host Kai Ryssdal and the Marketplace team are bringing a live version of the show to select cities, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers. For the uninitiated, Marketplace is a public radio show airing on weekdays focused on business, economic and tech news. Sounds pretty boring, right? Why would I pay to attend an economics lesson on a prime theater evening?

Kai Ryssdal. Photo courtesy of Marketplace.

Kai Ryssdal. Photo courtesy of Marketplace.

The beauty of Marketplace is that they take complex sets of data and numbers, and turn them into fascinating and relatable stories. The show was incredibly engaging from start to finish. Playing to a packed house, Kai Ryssdal smoothly guided us through the numbers, including the importance of GDP (and taking it with a grain of salt), the origin, benefits, and flaws of credit scores, and the jobs numbers. Ryssdal remained a constant presence during the show, with a large multimedia screen behind him displaying occasional video and even time travel special effects. He brought on guests including Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff and Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglass Elmendorf to explain how numbers inform business and the government, and why these numbers matter to us. Even better than the guests were the special reports brought in from regular Marketplace correspondents Lizzie O’Leary, Stacey Vanek Smith, Adriene Hill, Rob Schmitz, and Paddy Hirsch. We learned the favorite number of every guest and reporter taking the stage – numbers ranged from 11 (because of slurpees), all the way to 31,363,870,000 (the current population of China).

The most delightful part of the show came from Stacey Vanek Smith, a senior reporter with Marketplace. If you’ve used Facebook or Gmail, you may have noticed ads that seem to target you specifically. After buying shoes, you might start seeing more ads for Zappos, for example. The actions we take on the web are often tracked – each and every one of us are the numbers. According to Stacey’s research, Acxiom, one of the largest data profiling companies, has approximately 1500 data points for each of us.

These companies know who our friends are, they know what we like to buy, they know our online television/movie consumption habits, and so forth. Stacey brought us on a tour to meet her digital self – or who the data companies think she is. Acxiom has 70 data clusters it places individuals into based on purchasing habits, salary, etc. Stacey, for example, falls into the “Middling Single” cluster, defined by Acxiom as “Markedly single, childless and urban” as well as being a consumer of art, museum visits. The audience didn’t escape the number crunching – we were data mined, too! As an audience, we were defined as “Kids & Clout,” averaging a salary of around 75k per year, college educated, with kids. But the numbers are only as good as the data that can be tracked – for example, Stacey is a big reader, but her reading activities can’t be tracked online. She consumes most of her television online, so it’s assumed she is a big TV watcher. Numbers need context and a big pinch of salt – the numbers in our lives inform everything, but at the same time, can’t be depended on too heavily. Marketplace provides the context and the “salt,” turning seemingly indigestible information into one of the best informational meals you’ve ever eaten.

Even for those without an interest in economics, or someone who might eschew public radio, I would highly recommend catching Marketplace live in a theater near you. This enlightening show provides a unique lens with which to view the numbers in our lives, while consistently entertaining and delighting the audience. For more information about the 25th anniversary tour, check out Marketplace.org/25years

To celebrate its 25th year of bringing economics to life, Marketplace® is hitting the road. On stages across the U.S., How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers will provide an irreverent, insightful look at the numbers in our lives. Numbers in headlines, numbers without context. From the Dow to the NASDAQ to weekly unemployment, we’re bombarded with newsworthy numbers every day. How do we make sense of what they all really mean?

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Join Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal plus reporters Adriene Hill, Stacey Vanek Smith, Lizzie O’Leary, Rob Schmitz and Paddy Hirsch on the road as they humanize the numbers in How I Learned to Stopped Worrying and Love the Numbers . It’s an evening of radio, with sound elements, interviews and engaging storytelling.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

How I Learned to Stopped Worrying and Love the Numbers played for one performance only on April 24, 2014, at 7 PM at the Music Center at Strathmore — 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future Strathmore events, check their Events and Tickets calendar.

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