Man being controlled as a puppet from a hand coming out of phone screen.

What is Big Data and Why Social Media Sucks

Social Media’s Toxic Role in the Advancement of Big Data

The term “Big Data” is generally referring to what we humans can do with a high volume of data. The more we know about a particular phenomenon, the better decisions we can make. For example, if we have more (bigger) data, it’s like having the notes to a test (assuming you take good notes/have good data). Even then, having bad data can be just as valuable, because you would then know what not to use. For machines, like a self-driving car, the more experiences, and data it has, the better decisions it can make to drive itself without a human interacting upon it. You can see how valuable good, accurate data can become as the access to it becomes easier to attain.

How Big Data is Defined

Big Data is generally broken down into the “3 V’s of Big Data”: Volume, Velocity, and Variety. Volume, referring to the sheer size and amount of data that is being processed by a particular system. Velocity refers to the speed at which the volume of the data can be processed and used for making decisions. And variety – to the types of data (contact data, sensor data, images, audio, etc.). While Big Data can be broken down even further, the overarching theme is almost always referring to what one can do at scale to drive more insights and make better decisions in a particular instance.

The Generation of Social Media

I’ve recently been binging Netflix’s Stranger Things, and it has really struck me how much times have changed since the 80s. They didn’t text each other to hangout or keep in touch through phone screens. We have become so entrenched in our phones and in social media. For instance – what’s the first thing you do in the morning? Many of us instantly grab our phone and start scrolling. Most of us probably even use our phones as our alarm clocks, making it the first thing we reach for in the morning. Even when your eyes are getting scorched by the bright light from the phone, you begin scrolling through your notifications to see what is new and pumping your brain full of dopamine. This results in wasted time and potentially negative psychological effects. Now, not everyone does this, or has their phone as their alarm clock. The point is that this is a habit amongst most young people because we all grew up hooked to our phones. Our phones and social media use have been part of our daily routines.

When we refresh our apps by swiping down or clicking the refresh button, we are delighted with brand new posts, messages and more ultimately letting your hypothalamus know to trigger the production of dopamine. This is what keeps your eyes fixed on the screen and ultimately leaves you wasting time mindlessly scrolling. This psychological process is called Positive Intermittent Reinforcement. When you act on something (like refreshing a page) you are rewarded (new pictures, posts, notifications, etc.). Just as Jonathan Maricano says in Better Marketing, “It’s the same when we swipe faces left or right on dating apps like Tinder. We’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match. When we tap the number of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to see what’s underneath.” What Marciano is saying is right, except in gambling, you might lose. With social media, there is no losing. Every time you scroll down to refresh or check your notifications, you are delighted with new, fresh content or something to keep your mind stimulated to keep you engaged on the app. That’s why you keep scrolling, clicking, and engaging.

How does this relate to big data?

In the age of the almighty smartphone, social media, and the internet, mankind has formulated a whole new meaning for the term “big data” which originated in the 1990’s. We are now able to capture data faster and more precisely than ever before with the help of the smartphone and the internet. We have the power of the world in the palm of our hands. More specifically, big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and various other social media platforms. And these companies want you to continuously scroll and engage so they can feed their machines data on how to keep you on longer and longer.

With this online engagement, they can go to advertisers to sell ad space that will drive engagement for the advertisers’ content. They can tell which user demographics respond best to different posts or ads and market to them specifically. In the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former senior executive of Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, breaks it down as, “How can we psychologically manipulate as fast as possible to give you that dopamine hit.” Social media apps compete with one another for advertisers’ money and for users’ attention. To paint a broader picture, media platforms allow for users to create media accounts where they can provide behavioral, preference, and demographic data about themselves. This data can be collected from the things you post, like, buy, accept or search about through your devices. Big data companies and scientists then collect this data and build personas about you that can determine your age and gender, what you like and much more. Essentially, big data companies are creating computer-based personalities on information collected from your devices. They can even end up knowing more about you than your family and friends do. The more data, the more insights that can be uncovered. 

So, why exactly does social media suck?

Social media is generally a toxic place that builds false realities for people and trains your brain to want instant results. There are things it does great like sharing cool memories and staying in touch with people all over the world, but a large majority of time spent online does not mean a particular person sharing memories or connecting with people, but rather, consuming other people’s memories. This builds that false reality because people only share the highlights of their life. Many young people instantly compare what they’re doing to what people are choosing to show through their screen. Also, being able to refresh the page and hammer that positive intermittent response and getting instant gratification builds habits in people to want the same thing in all aspects of their life. They don’t want to work for something, they want to click a button and see it happen right before their eyes. There was a time when none of this existed, and people lived just fine. They may have indulged in other things they shouldn’t have, but point is – it did not always exist, and the world went on.

How can we change this?

The key for everyone to learn from this, is how to balance our time. We should practice bettering our relationship with and consumption of social media. To not waste 4-6+ endlessly scrolling, but to start using social media as a tool to help drive progress and development in their life.

by: Rohan Kohli, Lead Generation Coordinator

About Rohan: A diehard Bengals fan who loves to push the boundaries and crush expectations. He started two businesses in High School, one of which a team competition amongst high school peers in Pinellas County to win $10,000. Another that would go on to amass over half-a-million followers online. The way he sees it, Joe Burrow isn’t going into work to just play the game. He is coming in to win. That is how Rohan approaches every day. Let’s work! “You play to win the game… you don’t play to just play it.” – Herm Edwards