The Challenge of Records Management: The Human Face of Big Data

A term that I have been hearing a lot lately is “Big Data”. It could be simply due to the nature of my job, of course. On the other hand, “Big Data” seems to come up after working hours just as much. One thing no one seems to  agree on is what in the world is this “Big Data”. One calls it a fuel, another – the most valuable asset. One thing is for sure – Big Data is the universe of information that is constantly being generated by every single person on every single device every single second. At a rate of “five exabytes every two years”, according to the executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt.

In fact, if you are seriously interested in learning what “Big Data” actually is, read “The Human Face of Big Data” – a book created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt.

What fascinated me about the book is the way it explores how we are actually attempting to give information a human face. All that data that is constantly being generated is – in reality – useless without the analytics. Technology is what allows to convert it into information. Innovation is what turns it into operational knowledge. It allows us to give Big Data meaning.

Aside from the abundant pictures and amazing infographics, I also enjoyed the structure of the book, the way it is organized. It is broken out into several sections, each with a different theme – human body, crime, social media, art, etc. In turn, each one of those sections consists of short essays, each about a certain way that the data is collected and converted into an engine that drives progress. These stories are like tiny building blocks that comprise the human out of the digital.

Interconnections created by the internet among the digital devices make it possible to collect data on so many things that were a mystery to science only a few years earlier – certain diseases or the changes to nature. It is the technological advances that made this possible. For example, there is video game that was created to solve super complex medical problems. And of course, all that monitoring and data collection allows the super-customization of advertising based on your digital footprint.

Just a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “The most basic insight of modern phycology is that most of our mental life happens outside of consciousness. By definition, we are not aware of it. And so we are, to an unsettling extent, strangers to ourselves.” By Dan Gardner, pg 15.
  • “having access to lots of data is not enough. One must also think about the data in context.” pg 29
  • “Technologies become viral when they amplify something that is already in us, but blocked. When a technology eliminates a major blockage, the uptake can be explosive. Facebook gained 500 million users in less than five years by finding a basic human blockage…” By Jonathan Harris, pg. 200.

The book is full of short stories that will amaze and astonish you. I bet you do not really know what social media can be used for, even though you spend hours utilizing it every day, even though it is you who is driving its new applications. Another great thing about this book – the short essay form makes it easy to read and easy to put down, if you only have a few minutes.

Reading this book made me realize that a digital transformation is the new paradigm, when it comes to my job. It is not the future, it is the now. And the possibilities are truly endless. Where will innovation take us next?

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