Continuing a theme from a post I wrote earlier, I have been spending a bit of time today looking through Business Insider’s encyclopaedic collection of data about all things digital (see for yourself here: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-future-of-digital-2013-2013-11?op=1)
There’s a lot of data. Much of it summarized into neat graphs. It’s all very interesting.
But what does it tell us about the future? Well, just continue out the trend lines.
That’s easy – I could do that. I often do, because it’s often the best policy. And that’s the temptation that lots and lots of data gives us – extrapolate the lines. It must be safe, because the past tells us it’s so.
So let’s look at the past. A very specific bit of the past – the famed Mary Meeker’s 2006 analysis of The state of the Internet (http://web.archive.org/web/20061113124052/http://www.morganstanley.com/institutional/techresearch/pdfs/Webtwopto2006.pdf).
Now Mary still produces such a pack every year. And it’s still a much anticipated event.
But the 2006 report looks a little lack lustre, in hindsight. There’s no mention of the iPhone. Or the iPad. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. Or LinkedIn. Or Apps.
Now to be fair to Mary, most of those things hadn’t been invented or at least hadn’t got any sort of market (it was the year of Twitter’s founding, the year before the iPhone). But here is the challenge of obsessive (big) data analysis – it can’t do anything to predict shifts in the future. And I’m sure it’s in part this “the data tells us” type thinking that led to companies from RIM to Microsoft to dismiss the iPhone as a novelty.
Meeker’s report is only eight years old. The future it predicts is kind of right, kind of wrong – is it much more than the closer fashions of 2006 to today that make it any better a judge of the future than the non-data-based futurology of the sort seen from below from 1967?