The Beginning of Big Data

by Rachel Z. Arndt

Some years ago an engineer at Google told me why Google wasn’t collecting information linked to people’s names. It’s not just about Big Data.

Not long ago, I was at a dinner with the chief executive of a large bank. Not long ago, a woman in Tacoma, Wash., received a suggestion from Facebook that she “friend” another woman. Not long ago, I sent a dozen friends an electronic invitation to a party.

If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I’d say it is data-ism.

The idea of big data goes something like this: “I am not a number. I am a free man!” Very soon, we will see inside ourselves like never before, with wearable, even internal, sensors that monitor our most intimate biological processes.

Someday you’ll tell your grandchildren you remember the old days when data just sat there, like some list of information for people to look at.

Big Data is getting a council of wise men.

Business people, Big Data is coming for you.

Technology tends to cascade into the marketplace in waves. It comes in “torrents” and “floods” and threatens to “engulf” everything that stands in its path. Some new products impress for what they say about the future. In the 1960s, mainframe computers posed a significant technological challenge to common notions of privacy. The Internet is, of course, old hat.

Good with numbers? Big Data is in more places than you know, perhaps even your living room.

You can learn a lot about the world from Wikipedia, sometimes without reading the articles. Big data, meet humanity.

Rachel Z. Arndt writes about little data for Popular Mechanics. “Big Data” photo of painting by Geoff Stearns.