Data: It’s for Yuppies and Hipsters.
That’s the message I’m hearing lately from more than a few companies that deal in data. It seems like more often than not, the messaging around data is, frankly, elitist — based on an assumption that data is something for people of means. Because I’m a sucker for a good portmanteau, I’m calling this phenomenon of elitism in the data space “datalitism.”
I had been noticing examples of datalitism for a while, but Google’s recent “Project Glass” video really brought it home. In this video, which previews a technology that is undeniably cool, a young man of means wakes up and accomplishes a number of very hip tasks by interacting with data via Google Glasses. These interactions are elegant and useful, which is why I think the video is successful at sharing a vision for the technology. But the context is pure datalitism.
Here’s a sample of what our Project Glass protagonist uses his Google Glasses to do:
- Survey his collection of personal electronics equipment
- Make plans to meet a friend at NYC’s Strand Books
- Navigate a walking path through Greenwich Village
- Set a reminder to buy tickets for Monsieur Gayno, an obscure (read: hispter-approved) French ukulele player
- Navigate to Strand’s music section to find a book on playing ukulele
- Meet up with his buddy Paul to get coffee at a food truck
- Check in via Google Places at said food truck
- Take a picture of graffiti and share it on Google+
- Video chat with a pretty girl and serenade her with aforementioned ukulele as the sun sets over NYC
Overall, I like the video. It just seems a little closed-circuited to communicate with people who hang out at Strand Books and meet for street coffee while running ukulele errands. If we kept following this dude is there any doubt that soon we’d be watching him sip a PBR in a hip dive bar as he talks about his new fixie?
For another example of datalitism, see Daytum. This is a very innovative site that lets you track any sort of data you want and turns it into simple and clear visual representations. Seems like there’s a lot of potential usefulness here. And Daytum’s how-to video demonstrates that indeed there is — by showing you how to track…wait for it…your lattes. Oh, and your cappuccinos.
The irony I see here is that the movement for more and better data is based on the principle that this data can benefit everyone. The notion of the “Democratization of Data” (as many, including Google, have called it) is that data holds promise for all of us, to make our lives easier and richer — presumably not just if we are young urban professionals, but also if we happen to live outside of the cooler New York and San Francisco neighborhoods, and even (gasp!) if we work in something other than the technology industry. Yet for some reason the vanguard of this movement seems intent on speaking only to the latte-drinking set.
Here’s an idea: instead of a hipster paradise, base the next cool visionary video for a Google product in a small town, with the kids of blue collar families coordinating a homerun derby and recording and comparing stats in real time. Instead of featuring Zooey Deschanel ordering tomato soup delivery, let the next iPhone ad star a mother in a suburban grocery store using Siri to find the best price for milk (I know, fat chance).
I realize that now, for the people most immersed in the data movement, one latte is a fairly standard unit of measurement. All I’m saying is that it would be wise — and not difficult — for these companies to think outside the box a bit when communicating about the exciting advances and products in the world of data. Not to mention that doing so would be consistent with the fundamental principle of the movement: that data is for everyone, regardless of your interest in ukuleles.
This post originally appeared on my personal blog.