Blogs  / February 3, 2015

Big Data and the Human Experience

by Rebekah Iliff

Dell 1,5, 10 Big DataLast week, I had the pleasure of spending 14 hours talking, thinking, and theorizing about the future of Big Data at Dell’s 1-5-10 Big Data event at San Francisco’s Clift Hotel. The conversations included thoughts and insights from some of the world’s biggest Big Data experts.

Did I mention Big Data?

Needless to say, I went to bed with Big Data on my mind.

The next morning, after a smooch from my pooch and grabbing a coffee to go, I jumped into an Uber with one Arman, two bags, and three changes of clothes…and headed back to my home in Marin.

Here’s what happened during that drive:

As Arman and I rode through the city toward the Golden Gate Bridge I decided to put my phone away and think about how my morning was being affected by Big Data.

Arman, likely in his mid-fifties and of Middle Eastern descent, was a massage therapist in addition to his duties as an Uber driver. Big Data was allowing him to maximize and optimize his down time.

The music he was playing in the car was one of my favorite genres: it’s a kind of French jazz with infusions of Spanish guitar. Very obscure, but I know it when I hear it, and it takes me to a place of complete and utter ecstasy every time.

I asked him who the artist was and he said it was from the “Pink Martini” channel on Pandora, a French musician by the name of Melody Gardot. He joked that, as a massage therapist, he liked to play this kind of music for his depressed clients because it always cheered them up.

“A new music discovery,” I thought to myself. “How wonderful.” Big Data was behind that too. And then another fleeting thought: “Does he think I’m depressed?”

We both sat quietly, intermittently commenting about the beautiful, sunny weather and just how amazing it was to be driving across one of the most well known man-made wonders of the world into a quaint little town of epic proportions (Sausalito).

We joked about just turning around when we got to my house and driving back into the city because we were having such a nice, relaxing time…listening to music and soaking in the sunrise over the Bay.

When we finally arrived at my house (I felt like the last mile down Bridgeway he was driving very slowly on purpose – as to not take these last few moments for granted) I somewhat hesitantly got out of the car, wishing for just a few minutes more so I could observe this experience. He handed me my pile of clothes as I struggled with my overly packed bags and coffee.

“What a lovely ride,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied. “It was. Thank you so much.”

He tipped his hat (no seriously, he did this!) and got back into his car, driving off to pick up his next customer.

You see, this is the power of Big Data in Reality.

It’s not about having the Data, analyzing the Data, or even predicting our behaviors based on Data.

No, not really.

Although, that’s what we’ve been told Big Data is about because that’s the “Hype” around it. But Big Data isn’t about Data at all.

Rather, it’s about the human connection that is cultivated and empowered by and through it. It’s about 2 random strangers, both of whom are benefiting from Big Data’s existence (my company uses it to create a product other companies will buy; and he uses it to empower himself to make more money and create a more memorable customer experience) enjoying the ride.

So when we start to get on our high horse about Big Data (as I’m sure I’ve done many times), we’d be better off remembering that it’s actually about the human experience and how it enriches our lives.

Big Data, in essence (and if applied thoughtfully) should and can support us in becoming more self-actualized. We can discover more, we can share more, we can connect more.

I wonder if companies – who are using Big Data to power their products and services – thought about things in this way we’d all be better off.

I’d say so…