The trap of Big Data – why sociology and anthropology will be hot

There was a time where engineers ruled the world. They became CEO’s, CIO’s, even CMO’s. Everybody was demanding an engineer. Their logical minds and structured personality made processes, deliveries, production effective and efficient. Those times are not over yet, but a new race is emerging from the ashes of Greece, those people that like to understand how society works, those with the ability to apply the technological advances achieved by engineers to the world. The old sociologist and anthropologists are back and their weapon of choice was built by the engineers themselves: Big Data.

When we use Big Data, we don’t usually have the perception of the trap it conveys. We rely too much on the data computers are collecting, but not fully interpreting. Humans rely on semiotics to understand the cultural context in which we live. Without the correct interpretation of signs and symbols, numbers and data mean nothing, they are a signifier without a signified (here you can learn more about the theory from Sassure and Pierce). We can illustrate this example with Alice in Wonderland, where Humpty can assign any value to any word, hence changing the cultural and social use of signs. This is the trap of Big Data, it requires a correct decoding.

Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle

Pierce and Sassure sign theory applied in Alice

We’ve discussed noise before, but now the analytic mind of humans is being challenged. By these I’m not going to go into a philosophical argument of Aristotelian and logic laws on analysis, I’m trying to make an easier point here. Computers operate on a way more logical way than humans do, this is by design. No feelings involved (yet) but this might be their downfall as well, let’s use Richard Branson’s gut feelings (or educated guesses). My point comes on the amount of information we need to handle in this economy. Big data is a trend, because of its size: big. Nevertheless it’s still DATA – not to confuse with information.

Maybe Platos’ king philosopher is that – a philosopher, not an engineer. Someone that understands that ultimately, numbers and data are meaningless unless someone can establish a human connection between those figures and statistics. It may be someone with the humanistic training to merge both, data and human behavior. Have you heard about those people that study societies and human interaction? Those geeks called sociologist and anthropologist (yes, they are as geek as some of those IT guys)?

The ritualistic nature of human beings and this data amount is paving the road for anthropologists and sociologist to become the next “in-demand/trending/hot” career. We’ve lived in a period in which engineers have taken the landscape. We could argue that Moore’s law was somehow correct (not getting into that discussion now), thus we needed their “engineerial” minds to keep reaching effective levels of technological progress. This is not stopping, I’m just making a point for those who like to look into the numbers and make sense in terms of actual human behavior. As marketers we should have one of these individuals inside of our mind all the time!

Customers matters!

Big Data customers issues?

For those out there, like me, that kind of understand numbers, that like market trends, and that follow carefully human interaction: Keep on doing that, we are the ones who will be mining Big Data numbers to transform them into useful information for the chaotic and crazy human beings that can sit down an watch a Nyan cat video for more than 5 minutes. Why would I do that to myself? Because I like it – no logic here…apparently…is there?

No data is irrelevant, if you know how to apply it

No data is irrelevant, if you know how to interpret it


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