Nor does the parallel to the rise of the electricity grid hold much credence with some. In terms of numbers, the comparison is certainly tempting: From 2005 to 2012 the volume of data on the internet increased 1696%. But the revolutions that the unleashing of electricity produced in manufacturing processes, ways of daily living, and transportation have no match in the rise of “Big Data” to date. In fact, during the time that has seen the increase in Big Data, we have experienced a lackluster economy where productivity, which had risen largely due to automation from the 1970s through the start of the 2000s, has actually shrunk. Productivity growth decreased 1.8% annually from 2005 to 2012.
In part making such outlandish claims is one of the hazards of predicting the future, always a difficult if not impossible task to get right. Yet it may also borrow something from the spirit of the times: We have grown so
accustomed to enormous, “revolutionary” sorts of changes in the last two decades that some believe the sheer size of the growth rate in Big Data must signal something equally unprecedented and huge on the horizon. Yet in the end some economists have observed that the new analytics, which companies use to mine Big Data, just allows those companies to cannibalize the customer base of their competitors, or, make the case for digital advertising over print and other traditional media even stronger. It creates incremental or sideways changes, not revolutions in the economy. And still others muse that the current framework for the use of Big Data may be just plain wrong. In the end, they posit, the context in which our futurists have placed Big Data, like cloud computing, may end up simply being “a mirage.” Big Data and cloud computing may be incorporated into our economic and business practices in ways we have yet to even envision. I think we’ll just have to wait and see on this one . . .