Data plays such a prominent role in the world that it is impossible to pinpoint all the ways big data affects your personal life. So much data is being collected every day that we now refer to these massive collections as big data. Now more than ever, you should know how big data is collected and understand some of the impacts of big data in your personal life.
What is big data and what are some examples of big data?
Before you can understand the ways big data is used in your everyday life, you must have a basic understanding of what big data is and how it is gathered. Research indicates that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day as our many internet-connected devices track, produce, and store information (source). That number is expected to continue to increase as internet access and use improves and expands around the world.
The world has never seen this amount of information collected so rapidly. In short, data is everywhere. Large groups of information are assimilated and then analyzed for insights into human behavior, past, present, and future. Experts of all kinds are working to apply the knowledge gained from big data in an ever-growing number of ways. Big data is changing the way people live their lives as it is applied to fields such as:
- Music, Shows, and Movies
- Healthcare and Medical Services
- Shopping and Marketing
- Travel and Transportation
- Public Policy and Safety
- News and Information
- Education and Employment
- Artificial Intelligence
How Big Data is Changing the Way People Live Their Lives
The changes in how big data is collected have occurred so rapidly that big data is more prevalent in daily life than you might think. Companies and organizations are collecting information about their targeted audiences. They know what you’re watching, what you’re reading, and what you’re buying.
This access to key, personalized data then affects your daily experience in some of the most important and common areas of life. Consider these ways big data is used in your everyday life:
Music, Shows, and Movies
One of the most apparent and personal ways big data affects your personal life is through the entertainment and media you consume. This includes music streaming services as well as television and film platforms.
Streaming has revolutionized the music industry, and most people use one or more of the most popular music streaming services. Companies like Spotify and Pandora rely heavily on big data, tracking what music you choose and like to redirect your experience in real-time. Pandora personalizes user experience through its music genome project, which it describes as “the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken” (source). Spotify offers users a weekly, personalized playlist and even marks it with the user’s photo (source).
Other forms of entertainment are working from the same playbook, and that includes most movie and television streaming services. Since many of these companies are now also creating their own content, they also use the data they collect from you to determine what kind of content to produce. In 2016, big data led Netflix to create more original content like its hit Stranger Things, contributing to a major change in the company’s direction and in your experience with Netflix (source).
Healthcare and medical services
Healthcare is another area where it’s easy to trace the impacts of big data in your personal life. The collection and application of mass information has changed many areas of the healthcare industry, including (source):
- Tracking and maintaining personal records and health patterns,
- Prediction of disease transmission and epidemics,
- Treatment protocols and potential cures,
- Tracking and improving quality of life patterns, and
- Privacy and Security
You’ve probably noticed that more and more of your medical records are digitized. This use of electronic data can affect your life in a couple of important ways. First, it enables doctors, hospitals, and clinics to more efficiently track your history and provide the treatment you need. However, your data is also being analyzed along with the health histories of many others to enable medical professionals to track diseases, determine the effectiveness of treatments, and much more (source).
You also may be contributing to one of the examples of big data in healthcare in a more immediate way. Do you track your exercise or other aspects of your personal health through a wearable device like a Fitbit or through apps on your phone? If so, your information helps professionals track important health trends that affect research and medical progress.
Shopping and Marketing
Most major retailers now rely heavily on big data to shape not only their front end business but also to direct their marketing efforts. If you shop online regularly, the impacts of big data in your personal life definitely include both a change in the ads you see and in your actual shopping experience.
Online retailers now collect information from your activity on your computers, smartphones, and other devices that connect to the world wide web. Businesses then analyze your data and use it to evaluate your interests and preferences and make projections about what you might buy in the future. This affects both their advertising tactics and what you see when you shop.
Most of us would like to believe we are unaffected by these techniques, but consider: Have you ever purchased an item for which you didn’t search but that appeared on a site where you were shopping? If so, this is another reminder of how the use of big data can affect your life.
When you make a purchase on a site like Amazon, that information is then compared to a pool of data about other consumers who purchased the same item (source). Those comparisons allow the retailer to make predictions about other items that might interest you. These items then will appear as suggestions in various ways as you browse the retailer’s sites.
Travel and Transportation
The ways we move around our cities and the world have changed dramatically in recent years. Many of those changes are driven by examples of big data creating more efficient solutions to our travel and transportation needs, including:
- The development of GPS and intelligent map programs,
- Better sequencing of traffic signals,
- Advancements in how air travel is managed and sold,
- Traffic prediction and planning,
- More efficient operation of mass transit systems, and
- On-board automobile data collection
From the moment you turn the key in your ignition, you probably are experiencing several ways big data affects your personal life. Most automobiles produced in the last decade or so have smart technology designed to monitor the condition of the car, track mileage and fuel consumption, and improve your driving experience in other ways. That data is also collected to help the auto industry continue to make more efficient and reliable vehicles.
You likely haven’t opened a physical map in the car in years, if ever. What was once a normal part of a road trip experience has now been moved to either built-in GPS systems or smart maps programs on phones. You no longer have to guess about how long your trip will take, when you will arrive, or what traffic conditions you might experience. And, of course, your own travel data is being collected to help improve the accuracy of these systems for everyone.
Big data also has revolutionized the airline industry at virtually all levels. From the moment you begin to search for a ticket, you begin a journey through multiple examples of big data in use. Fares are set by automated data collection and analysis, and schedules are created based on predictions made from the collection of big data. And, of course, airlines are keeping track of how frequently you fly, what you prefer to drink, and other information to customize your experience.
Public Policy and Safety
Public agencies are also utilizing these trends in data collection, providing yet another reminder that big data is more prevalent in daily life than you might think. Police and fire departments and all levels of government turn to big data to help develop and implement new policies and procedures.
Police departments and law enforcement agencies around the world increasingly work to be proactive rather than simply responding to crime after the fact. Networks of computers, cameras, and mobile devices track incidents in real-time so police can be dispatched more efficiently and effectively. Larger law enforcement efforts like campaigns to stop terrorism also rely on global collection and examination of relevant data (source).
Fire services and other emergency responders are taking a similar course. Stockpiles of data gathered from government sources, surveillance systems, emergency vehicle GPS tracking, and fire and smoke detectors help fire departments prepare to respond more quickly and effectively to fire emergencies (source). They also have become more proactive as they are able to identify higher risk areas, conduct inspections and safety checks, and recommend better preventative measures.
These are just two examples of big data use that demonstrate ways public service agencies and policy-makers are attempting to improve efficiency and accuracy.
News and Information
No matter what sources you rely on for news coverage, your experience is impacted by multiple examples of big data at work. From the earliest reporting and news gathering through news delivery and on to comments you might make on social media, big data is everywhere in the news cycle.
More and more, reporters utilize social media in gathering information that shapes their news reports. Applications such as Twitter are so common that major news is often reported on them by everyday users within seconds. Reporters preparing stories can use search features on these platforms to isolate posts made in given time periods and geographic areas (source).
Of course, one of the other relevant impacts of big data in your personal life is in the way you receive news. Trends in big data populate your various media timelines with stories determined to be of higher importance or of particular interest to you. Automated data processes determine the most talked about stories and often push them to the front of both news aggregators and social media sites (source).
Education and Employment
Big data also impacts two of the primary areas that will shape your future: education and employment processes. College admissions and hiring practices both take cues from the collection and use of big data.
Many colleges and universities now rely on statistical programs designed to identify and attract students who enable the institutions to meet internal goals. For example, schools benefit from higher rates of enrollment among admitted students and from improved graduation rates. Admissions decisions often include work with data designed to predict success for both students and educational institutions (source).
Employers are also working to leverage data to improve hiring processes. They often rely on services that aggregate large volumes of data to identify candidates most likely to fit and excel in particular jobs. Some examples of big data in these processes include (source):
- Job History
- Public Work Samples
- Behavior on Social Media
You may read the term “artificial intelligence” and tend to envision a scene from a science fiction movie. However, artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just an imagined force in the future. You likely interact with some form of AI on a regular basis.
Among the most obvious examples of artificial intelligence in your daily life is the chatbot. Chatbots draw on multiple examples of big data and automate your experience of locating very specific information. Because big data and AI merge in chatbot functioning, these bots are able to “learn” and constantly improve their ability to customize your experience (source).
Overall, big data and artificial intelligence have a symbiotic relationship. Big data is fueling improvements in AI, and in turn, AI improves the insights we glean from big data in several ways (source):
- AI is creating new methods for analyzing data,
- AI helps make data analytics less labor-intensive,
- AI requires human guidance, an important reminder in an age of big data,
- AI can be used to alleviate common data problems, and
- AI helps data analytics become more predictive and prescriptive
These impacts of artificial intelligence matter. As long as there are so many ways big data affects your personal life, you benefit from the ability of AI to create better uses of that data.
Clearly, Data is Everywhere, But Who is in Charge of How It’s Used?
The rapid acceleration of both the production and collection of data means there’s no turning back: big data is changing the way people live their lives.
Like so many other examples of innovation and new discovery, this growing field presents many challenges, some of them ethical. Those who understand and help shape the way we use big data will also help us navigate both its potential benefits and guard against the possibility of misuse.
Are You Interested in Helping Put Big Data to Good Use?
Businesses and organizations understand they must make effective use of data, and increasingly they are looking for statisticians to guide them. Statisticians are able to find meaning in the volumes of data and help not only with strategic direction but also with ensuring data is used wisely (source). Well-trained statisticians move beyond the numbers to work alongside health professionals, government leaders, marketers, and many other experts to make otherwise overwhelming data helpful.
Many of the most important and desirable jobs in statistics require a master’s degree. As a student, you will learn industry-standard statistical and data analysis software, and study datasets. You’ll gain experience with data science and learn how to solve real-world problems. You can position yourself to be part of this exciting field leading to a six-figure salary with an online Master’s in Applied Statistics from Michigan Tech.