Data Driving Freedom & Slavery

Will Big Data Free Us Or Enslave Us?

In two of the top stories this week, we heard about the “dating apocalypse” which apps like Tinder have facilitated, and the seemingly relentless data-driven life of the typical white-collar worker (and by the description, they do sound more like workers than employees to most) at Amazon. We heard about how cutthroat things are at Amazon, how there is no such thing as a work/life balance (if you want a life you can’t work there), and that data drives decisions. Data on top of data on top of metadata – their lives are driven by meeting certain metrics, and no one cares if they have lived or not.

Amazon justifies it by saying that they need that kind of slavery to the cause to drive innovation, and if you look at it from a coldly logical approach, then I can see the point in driving workers to a certain degree.  After all, I mentioned in an earlier post that pushing people out of their comfort zone – like Robert Irvine or in the Marines is one of the few ways you can change behavior. Amazon is molding their people to be little, super hard-working engines – but not necessarily innovative ones. They expect all of their people to work as hard as if they ran a small startup, but without the possible huge upside.

But I digress. I was talking about data, Amazon, and the dating apocalypse. At Amazon, cold hard data seems to drive every decision; someone doesn’t perform, they are out. It seems like there is little to no human element in the interaction – who cares if you or your mother have cancer or not – work or get out. On the flip side, Tinder and similar dating apps seem to thrive on a lack of data – people make decisions on who to hook up with based on very little data – a photo and maybe a little interaction. One uses too much data and not enough humanity, and the other is the opposite.

The only perfect solution is a discrete blend of data, algorithms, and humanity, if you ask me. The ideal innovative company drives employees hard, sure, and rewards them well, based on human factors. The ideal dating app should provide pre-selected possible mates based on data. (BTW, I am currently working on a startup in this space, so if you are a data scientist and are interested, please ping me at

If you look at Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, would you argue that Amazon is the most innovative? Simply looking at the surface of innovation, I don’t see how Amazon’s dog-eat dog culture makes them more innovative in actuality than the others. Does free food at Google make you innovate less? Does keeping you hungry at Amazon let you innovate more?

At the beginning of the web, we leaned on humans. Now we lean too much on data and algorithms. We need to find that perfect blend of data and humanity to create the perfect service for everything we do. For dating, that means adding data to find the perfect match. For work, it means bringing humanity back to the workplace, to stop using technology to monitor humans and help them do and be better.

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