Big Data: It’s What’s For Breakfast

I had fat-free cottage cheese with cantaloupe for breakfast #WishIHadWaffles

But you don’t care. Neither do I.

I’ve never really understood why people seem to feel compelled to share that stuff with the universe. Why can’t you just keep your grapenuts to yourself? No one cares.

That’s not true. Because anyone who’s interested in the treasure trove of knowledge that is big data cares about your grapenuts and maybe my cottage cheese.

For anyone living under a rock or just coming out of a hibernation, here’s what “big data” means according to Forbes:

“…Big data is a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis…”

The data comes from almost everywhere from the user data on your phone and computer, to the number of times you shopped the SkyMall catalog using your credit card, to the information that you willingly provide (like customer surveys, contact information, employment information). Not to mention your tweets and social media behavior. All that junk goes into big data.

A big, fat, juicy data set like that means big bucks for businesses with the right data scientists and tools to leverage it. But the reality is that aside from what it means for you as a member of the various consumer, economic, and other biographical groups to which you belong, big data means less for you as a unique individual because companies aren’t singling you out and separating your data from that of everyone else (unless you’re a suspected terrorist and the NSA is the company in question…  then they’re isolating your data).

But if there was a way to access only the data points specific to you from these big data sets, would that be meaningful?


Exhibit A: Nicholas Felton

For the past several years, he’s been collecting his own data manually to produce a high-end annual report of his life called the Feltron.  You’ve never seen an annual report quite like this. Check it out.

Felton collects all types of data like the number of times he’s visited particular people and locations, the number of times he’s consumed various ice cream flavors in a give year, and his breakfast. The kinds of data that companies also happen to be collecting on you.

Which brings us back to the pressing and all important matter of reporting my breakfast, why it matters to companies, and why it might matter to you:

It’s not the documentation of my breakfast on any random Monday. Its the totality of the information that exists…

[given my breakfast report on that day + the 364 other days that I’ll eat breakfast in a given year + all of the other measurable footprints I leave]

…and creates a unique data set about my experience. That unique data set could be used to help weave together the otherwise potentially unseen, yet meaningful interactions which influence my behavior, work, and life.

That data means big bucks for companies when  combined with the hundreds thousands millions of others like you. If they can leverage that broader data for more targeted marketing strategies and product designs, we should at least consider the possibility that the very data we’re throwing out there could be leveraged on an individual basis to help us make more strategic and directed decisions that impact our personal and professional lives.

If you spare me the grapenuts updates, I’ll return the favor with my cottage cheese.


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