Is Big Data a Dumb Idea?

I recently read an article about buzzwords, with a focus on “big data”.  I began considering how buzzwords enter the lexicon and how we can communicate concepts and big ideas more clearly.  Is it possible to communicate complex and wide ranging ideas in just a few words?

I am laughing I write this post.  Just this morning, over breakfast, my daughter said something about not liking a book she was reading.  I asked her what about the book she didn’t like and she responded, “It’s dumb”.   We have an ongoing conversation which goes something like this.

Me:  “What do you mean by dumb?”

Her: “Just dumb, Dad.”

Me: “I don’t get, “dumb”, can you help me understand exactly what you mean?”


I am then rewarded with and explanation of, “dumb”, in a specific context.   I have this dialogue with my teenage daughter because I want her to be able to clearly verbalize her thoughts and ideas to others.

My initial reaction, to seeing “big data” described as an overused buzzword, was that “big data” is simple way to convey a very complex set of ideas.  My reaction led me to consider how “dumb” I really am.   When we hear terms like “big data” or “dumb” we immediately make assumptions about meaning of those words, regardless of what the actual intention behind the words might be.

What is “big data”?  Wikipedia says that “big data” is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools.”   When I hear “big data” my definition goes well beyond the size of the data set, into the technology capabilities that are currently and will soon be available to rapidly store, process and analyze unimaginable amounts of information.

To me “big data” represents an enormous, barely tapped, repository of information, that, when combined with the right people and tools can be leveraged to generate insights into behaviors that have never before been available.   The ability to analyze and correlate terabytes, petabytes, soon exabytes of data will impact every aspect of our lives from how much we pay for insurance to how much attention one gets walking through airport security.  The economic and social implications of “big data” are staggering.  Does the term, “big data”, encompass the enormity of the idea of “big data?

What is your definition of “big data”?   Please share your thoughts.


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