Data Is Eating Us

By | November 15, 2014

Green smoothieIs analyzing big data more fun than eating? Well, it might just be. For some, at least.

Anyway, that is one of the premises of Platfora’s recent Soylent giveaway promotion. For those who need catching up: Platfora is a Hadoop-native big data analytics platform. Soylent is an instant meal replacement, designed to provide 100% of the body’s nutritional requirements while doing away with all that distracting and time-consuming “eating” that humans are compelled to keep doing. Where these two meet is in the lives of busy data scientists and hard-core analysts. As the Platfora blog explains it:

Hunger demands that you go right then and heat up that frozen burrito immediately. No get out of jail free card for you, my friend.

What if I told you there was another way? A magical way to throw off the Shackles of Mealtime and the depression of time-sucking, sad cafeteria lunches. A way to be free to revel in the world of data limitlessly, without the constraints of a growling stomach and hungry mind.

And that “way,” of course, is the consumption of Soylent rather than the burrito. To quote the promotional video from the Soylent home page:

Unlike most other foods which prioritize taste and texture, Soylent was engineered to maximize nutrition, to nourish the body in the most efficient way possible.

No shopping, no cooking, no figuring out what goes with what or  worrying about whether you’re keeping things in balance. In the video, we meet the creator of Soylent, an engineer who has taken on human nutrition as an engineering problem, one that can be broken down to its constituent parts. In this case, the “parts” that make up nutrition are chemicals. So the solution to human nutrition is ultimately a formula.

It’s another brilliant example of datafication in action. Previously we saw how a jet engine could become smaller, cleaner, quieter, and more powerful through changing the relationship between its physical components and its data component.  And we  looked at the almost magical process that can transform a room full of devices into a single device that fits in the palm of your hand: a smart phone. Now apply that same magic to  one of the fundamental physical processes of human survival, and voila! Soylent.

But the Platfora promotion takes it even further than that. Why datify the process of eating? One obvious reason: so you can spend more time working with data.

In the movie from which Soylent takes its name, the surprise ending (spoilers ahead) is that people are eating other people. Yikes, that’s terrifying. But that isn’t what’s happening here. In the world of Soylent, people are eating data — or at least food that leverages the maximum value of its data component.

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly apparent that  data is eating us. (Some might say that software is eating us, but I say same difference.) Or if not eating us, it is at least getting the upper hand in the relationship. Here we have data maximizing the efficiency of a core human bodily function so that we might better attend to data and its needs.

Sure, a lot of people will tell you that they have no interest in using Soylent. And even among Soylent users, freeing up time to allow for more data analysis is only one of many motivations. Yes, the data is working for us. But increasingly, it seems to have us working for it. Who exactly is running this show?

Stay tuned.