Across the face of planet earth, people are anxiously awaiting the next greatest money-spinning mega-trend. Hottest of the hot, is Big Data Science, hailed by all and sundry as the most promising route to a salubriously sexy and exhilarating future, and the accumulation of riches beyond the dreams of avarice. I kid thee not.
But, how is this all going to be achieved?
Many decades ago, the Iron Lady of Grantham went out of her way to convince enough voters that the future of the great and good of the British Isles would be secured, not through a leading-edge manufacturing industry and sustained government investment in education, R&D and manufacturing, but in opening doors for each other.
This meant that whilst the UK was building up a massive Messi and Rolando-style dependency on the glittering, slippery and dodgier sides of the financial services industry, other countries such as Germany played a dour conservative game of appallingly dull risk-averse restraint.
The rest of Europe looked upon the changed face of the City, either with utter envy or barely concealed disgust. Never before had we witnessed such a thing.
The new financial ‘climate’ in the UK was evidently bringing in loadsa-money for those clever-clogs with bags of staying power and lack of moral prissiness, and indeed for the likes of JP Morgan, Rothschilds, HBSC and others who employed those cunningly wizzo guys ‘n’ gals in the first place.
The spirit of the times meant that massive opportunities in the financial sector sprang from the ground, ideated, created and opened up for those who were willing and able to “seize ’em, mark ’em up and sell ’em on”.
Almost overnight, it became possible for almost anyone to tap into the vast-array of prospects afforded by the Thatcherite rogue-to-riches boom, cashing-in handsomely by surfing on the coattails of the disinhibited financial roller-coaster ride. More to the point, even though the financial industry opportunity-explosion stunned people with its unique violence, its Homeric proportions and its Bacchanalian dimensions, many either embraced the change or accepted the change, viewing it as as no-mean feat.
So, whilst Germany was littering their green and pleasant countryside with boring workshops and tidy unabashed factories that simply produced simple things that simple people simply wanted, the warriors of Maggie’s Barmy Army were fighting the retro-guard remnants of care-bear social-democracy on the beaches of Cornhill and Threadneedle Street.
The old social democrats and Christian democrats of Germany were letting their country slide into oblivion, and yet, something was not quite right.
When the financial crash came – as inevitable as it was – and the rising tide that lifts all boats actually went out, it soon became evident that many bathing in the Elysian waters of new financial instruments, vehicles and contracts, were in fact – and certainly in terms of risk-exposure – butt-naked.
That stated, what were the pundits saying all throughout the financial madness of the nineties and noughties?
I’ll tell you what those who garnered greatest media exposure, grace and favour were saying.
At the height of the hubris, recklessness and (dare I say it?) madness, early signs that things weren’t going quite to plan became evident, and some of us actually started to get vociferous in our observations. We were pointing out that the Emperor had no clothes. How dare we? However, human nature being what it is the people who were busy cashing-in on the good times, did not want to be made to feel uncomfortable with their own greed, amorality and voraciousness.
What followed was a widespread and reactionary religious-fundamentalist style backlash to “the cynical, negative and curmudgeonly types” who were pointing out the massive contradictions, the lack of real controls and the inherent fraudulence that had become endemic in the system.
Pointing out simple timeless human and economic truths became akin to heresy. Criticising politicians, media types and airport-bar economists for nonsense such as “this is the end of boom and bust”, “we are now in the champions league” and ‘investment in hedge funds should be democratised’, put concerned people very much in the category of cruel, callous and unpatriotic scoundrels. We were either with the system or against it, and we were branded as the tykes who wouldn’t or couldn’t understand. We did not grasp the beauty and simplicity of the proposition that with a couple of tweaks and adjustments to the financial machinery, a positive and upbeat message from the Prime Minister and a kiss from nanny, that all would be solved, and the markets would be happy again. Indeed, that we would safely avoid any of the nastiness of the past, such as peaks and troughs, and other vagaries once inherent in the legacy capitalist system.
So, what has this to do with Big Data and why has it taken so long to get around to the subject?
It took so long, because in order to highlight the perverse, dead-ended and decrepit nature of so much Big Data hype, it is necessary to draw informing parallels where possible.
What is the difference between claiming, “this is the end of boom and bust” and “Big Data is for everyone”? How does one contrast the notion that ‘opening doors for each other’ can sustain major economies, with unverifiable claims regarding a great, growing and all pervasive economic influence of Big Data? How does one go about explaining the dilemma of comparing the creation of Ponzi schemes with financial assets, versus creating Ponzi schemes with vapour-ware and data of dubious value, provenance and quality? Indeed, how does one separate the barren immorality of financial fraud with the equally desolate immorality of any other fraud?
The current crop of industry backed Big Data gurus is just another manifestation of the contradictions of the system that we are trying to survive and thrive in. I am happy for one not to have lived in the days of Galileo Galilei, largely because I know that neither the Earth nor Big Data are at the centre of our universe. So, that whilst I will have little or no support in the media for observing, what is to all intents and purposes the Big Data contrarian equivalent of Eppur si muove, at least I will continue to call out the misleading, unhelpful and damaging nonsense of so many indentured Big Data gurus.
My only parting hope is this, that whilst the English-speaking world is sustaining cash-flows by bullshitting each other about Big Data, that also somewhere in the world there will be ‘boring workshops and tidy unabashed factories that simply produce simple things that simple people simply want’.
Many thanks for reading.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, and if you wish, connect on LinkedIn and elsewhere – my twitter account is @goodstrattweet
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