Big Data knows where to find you (unless you’re on Malaysia Airlines)

Unless you’re a “data rebel or a data scientist” you’ll be forgiven for not knowing that Big Data Week begins May 5. Before you start blocking out your calendars, perhaps we should first discuss what Big Data is – and isn’t.

Big Data is NOT when fat Trekkies put on Starfleet uniforms and pretend to be Lieutenant Commander Data, the clammy mandroid of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Though this will likely disappoint some neckbeards to learn, the organizers of Big Data insist their namesake is a global, crowd-sourced event focused on the “social, political, technological and commercial impacts of Big Data.”

That’s some fine “circulus in probando” but it still doesn’t define “big data,” at least when the term is slumming it in lowercase. Permit me an attempt: In this grand experiment known as the Information Age, we are the Guinea pigs and data are the digital droppings we pile high and deep during our online lives.

Data is big. It accretes naturally, bit by bit, like dust bunnies. Or tumors. And before you know it, it’s both a behemoth and a commodity.

Once upon a time, the traces we left of ourselves were little more than breadcrumbs, fingerprints or even mere inference on the part of others. Then, in the ’80s, we figured out how to make the copious DNA we shed admissible in the courts. Where we’d been could be confirmed on a cellular level, but that’s nothing compared to the predictive capability of Big Data – it not only knows where we’ve been but where we’re going. It can even mold our intentions. Think of how many times you’ve been sidelined by the temptress of Netflix “Because you liked…”

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