The impact of computing on the worldwide economy, and even on business, was subject to debate until it got personal around the turn of the ’80s. Same with networking before the Internet came along in the mid ’90s.
Big computing and worldwide communications — two capabilities that for decades were entirely the province of large organizations — exploded with boundless new value once they became personal. You and I can do far more with computing and communications today than companies and governments ever could with either when they ran those shows, and when both were just B2B businesses.
From the B2B perspective in 1980, personal computing was an oxymoron. If you wanted to do serious computing, you needed big machines on raised floors tended “data processing” professionals. There was no way individuals with desktop machines could do the same grade of work. That notion ended when human creativity was massively unleashed by tens of thousands of new apps that could do things for individuals — and organizations — that big machines and staffs never could.
Likewise, personal networking in 1993 was also an oxymoron — again from the B2B perspective. Networks were things companies built, were a grace provided by giant telecom operators. Then the Internet came along, and subordinated those telecom operators (and cable operators as well) to the boundless new capacities of anybody with a computer and a connection to the vast new “cyber” spaces the Internet’s simple protocols opened.
What happened in both cases was individuals acquiring and exploiting capacities that were once exclusively corporate — and doing far more with those capacities than those corporations (and governments) ever could.
We forget those lessons when we look at “Big Data” today. In Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud? for example, James Glanz of The New York Times writes, “There is no disputing that a wide spectrum of businesses, from e-marketers to pharmaceutical companies, are now using huge amounts of data as part of their everyday business.” The whole piece is contained in the B2B frame: Big Data is something only big companies (and hot start-ups) have, care about, and put to use.
Yet to each of us nothing is bigger (or at least more important) than our own data. And nothing shifts attention farther away from what we can do with that data than assuming that others (especially marketers) know more about what we want and need than we do ourselves. Or that Big Data is something that only companies do and care about. This is exactly the mentality that held back computing in the mainframe age, and communications in the telecom age. (And we are being held back today to the very degree that those two old industries, and mentalities, continue to hold sway in our minds and our marketplaces.)
But we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it starts: with assumptions that it can’t be done. It can, and it will.
We are going to be able to do far more with our own data — and data, period — than big organizations ever could.