Seth emphasized that the point of this book is this: “social science is becoming a real science.”
I enjoyed reading the book while learning about all the things we don’t tell people but confess on search tabs. And like how Seth concluded his book with, “Too few of you, Big Data tells me, are still reading,” I hope that to the few of us, we find the end of this book a beginning to answering big questions with data.
Quotes from the book
People lie to friends, lovers, doctors, surveys, and themselves. But on Google they might share embarrassing information about, among other things, their sexless marriages, their mental health issues, their insecurities, and their animosity toward black people.
Four unique powers of big data:
- Offering up new types of data
- Providing honest data
- Allowing us to zoom in on small subsets of people
- Allowing us to do many casual experiments
In the pre-digital age, people hid their embarrassing thoughts from other people. In the digital age, they still hide them from other people, but not from the internet and in particular sites such as Google and PornHub, which protect their anonymity. These sites function as a sort of digital truth serum–hence our ability to uncover a widespread fascination with incest. Big Data allows us to finally see what people really want and really do, not what they say they want and say they do.
The Big Data revolution is less about collecting more and more data. It is about collecting the right data.
Actions we take today can have distant effects, most of them unintended. Ideas spread–sometimes slowly; other times exponentially, like viruses. People respond in unpredictable ways to incentives.
These connections and relationships, these surges and swells, cannot be traced with tiny surveys or traditional data methods. The world, quite simply, is too complex and too rich for little data.
But the world also lies to us by presenting us with faulty, misleading data. The world shows us a huge number of successful Harvard graduates but fewer successful Penn State graduates, and we assume that there is a huge advantage to going to Harvard.
By cleverly making sense of nature’s experiments, we can correctly make sense of the world’s data–to find what’s really useful and what is not.