The Big Data Rationality of Large Numbers: Quantitative Statistics + Fanatical Delusions

There are virtually innumerable fans of so-called „big data“. Countless fanatics of this quasi-scientific method will swear on a stack of bibles that if you count anything – it really doesn’t matter what, as that minute detail will certainly „emerge“ from the data itself – you will be rewarded with insights beyond your wildest dreams. Such descendents of bean-counters from previous centuries have moved on to grains of sand, dust particles, the colors of a beautiful sunset, whatever.

These people may strongly believe in science – without actually understanding much about scientific methods.

There seems to be a link between such lacking understanding and fanaticism. Let’s go back to one of the greatest leaders of fanatical movements ever: Adolf Hitler was probably one of the most (if not even the most) quintessial dictators of all times. I think what many people overlook, though, in this example is not that he was able to mesmerize such humungous masses, but rather how the masses let themselves become mesmerized.

Fans follow leaders (perhaps they should instead watch the parking meters 😉 ). There is a sort of quirky rationality to this behavior: When fans follow their leader, they apparently feel they no longer have to think themselves… – they simply accept whatever their leader says (i.e., dictates). This saves energy, because thinking can be quite difficult. Not thinking is easier than thinking.

The important takeaway is this: If people feel able to let someone else do the thinking, they seem very willing to do so. One way they feel able to enable a dictator to think for them is if / when other people seem to approve of the dictator. Other people’s approval of a dictator seems to make it „OK“ to let the dictator do as he / she pleases… – whether the dictator is a politician, a celebrity, a brand name, or anything anyone happens to be a fan (i.e., a fanatical follower) of.

When popular brand names such as Google or Facebook sell „big data“, of course they tell naive and innocent consumers a story about how important big data is in order for consumers to be able to find leaders. What they don’t tell such consumers (as those people who are willing to believe this story) is that the „big data“ plans are actually all about tracking consumer behavior. What they don’t tell advertisers is that the consumer behavior they track actually isn’t actually a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but merely a fanatical delusion hardly worth any more than a single grain of sand.

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