Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

Vapid Data

The 4th V of Big Data

The term ‘big data’ is often associated with ‘the 3 Vs’:

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Big Data needs a 4th V, to capture the Vapidity of this global accumulation of literals which hogs the power-hungry server warehouses dotting the globe. This morning when I sat down at my computer, I was going to do something else until I saw this vapid email from Google in my inbox. Verily, it’s unbelievable that people with six figure salaries are employed to churn out this stream of data vapidity, while the impoverished humanities majors making a fraction of their wages would be able to employ their interpretive skills to point out to everyone at Google what sheer crappola content they produce.

My Gmail / Google Drive name is ‘Hello World’ because I dislike my actual name being used in millions of useless data points. Thus, this vapid Google email addresses me as Hello, which is its own absurdist statement on our Dada Dataland:

Apparently I need monthly updates from Google.

And so I am provided with information to blog about in this post, because its sheer vapidity has exceeded a certain threshold which forces me to produce a blog-response.

Profound update!

Prior to receiving this email, I might have obtained information about where I’ve been in the past month from my memory. Also, because our historical epoch is defined by the dumb counting of things (which is a habit derived from the counting of money, which makes Accounting the uber-discipline of our era), it is imagined to be of importance for me to COUNT the number of places I’ve been in any given month, because that is super useful information for survival in my environment and passing along my genes to the next generation of my species.

This email informs me that deep in my cellphone’s data bowels is a Location History setting which I now need to dig for in order to turn off. There’s a big DUH moment, where it is computationally noted (I imagine the HAL voice behind these words) that I may have visited a fewer number of places compared to pre-pandemic times. But beyond this DUH moment, there is a profound semantic idiocy in the notion of what a ‘place’ is to begin with.

Since the pandemic, I’ve been been cycling more and certainly visiting more places! True, there may be a reduction in eating out events and massage appointments, which says a lot about Google’s philosophy of place — a valid Google ‘place’ is only somewhere that you might swipe a credit card, in order to create a data point that you’ve visited some kind of geo economic unit. All those cool rivers and lakes and paths and beaches visited while cycling don’t really count as valid Google ‘places’ because no one creates Google ads for them.

I am rather doubtful that this location history is going to offer “better restaurant recommendations” since Yelp proves that the most popular food is the grossest. It might, however, be “better” for Google because its recommendations are probably linked to Google ads, so there may be a double and insidious meaning intended. “Faster commute?” I don’t commute at all. Telecommuting is the fastest commute invented yet, and many of us are doing that kind of fast commute these days.

Scrolling down this vapid email data update, I see that Google’s programmers would get an F in any intro to computer science course, since they falsely claim with their poorly computed array indexes:

Google’s software engineers can’t even count using their fingers, the original ‘digits.’

In this time period, I have visited (with my cellphone on my person) 4 additional cities: New Westminster, Port Moody, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge. And I can easily count, with the help of a spreadsheet, far more than 28 places! Even my home has many places inside of it, e.g. I have a basement man cave and a small well lit office upstairs, and these are certainly different places! Though, admittedly, there’s no credit card swipe required to traverse these domestic spaces.

Scrolling down the email, we see some terrible clip art, because Google refuses to hire and pay well people with fine arts degrees.

OMG, Google, you need to hire art school graduates. This is visually just as gross as Yelp-like food recommendations.

Ok, first off, I ride my bike every 2 or 3 days, and EACH ride is 60–100km, so in the month of July, I have likely cycled 10–15 times the indicated distance, which is much more competently recorded on my Garmin bike computer, by the way, but which like Google also records plenty of useless data. As for the icon that combines public transport and personal vehicles, this is pretty stupid. I mean, there’s the bike, and then everything else? I agree that bikes are very cool and so maybe they are deserving of their own transportation category, relative to all other forms of transportation that exist. But, um, aside from the gross inaccuracy of the mileage recorded, and the vapidity of recording mileage in the first place, and the lack of Google employees with any visual aesthetic sensibilities, it is pretty creepy that Google is proudly displaying its very poor attempts at cyber stalking me.

The next section is ridiculous, called Highlights:

A highlight is any place recorded from an aerial perspective, which makes them ‘high.’

Anyone who knows the Vancouver area will realize that Surrey can never be a highlight. Why does Google think these are highlightable? The only thing high about them is the aerial view perspective. Maybe this is Google’s way of telling me that they also have drone footage of me in these places, which correlates with my cellphone data and thus makes these whole cities special in July?

The highlighted places presents a gross distortion, showing a huge image of a place I visited once to have a Vietnamese banh (sandwich), some spring rolls and a couple diet cokes on 100km bike ride. This little snack cost over $20 because it was in a touristy area, and so I decided at the time never to eat there again! It was definitely not a highlight, as I felt overcharged, but because Google can’t read my mind yet, it will probably use this data point to recommend similarly overpriced Vietnamese sandwich shops in the future.

For some reason, my cellphone replacement (which happens every few years) and some bread I bought stand out in Google’s databases as being just as noteworthy for mention as a pricey bahn. Certainly I swiped my credit card at more places than these in the month of July, but Google’s highlights algorithm seems keyed to a random function, or perhaps to companies that are also running Google ad campaigns, who knows.

Next we see some more terrible clip art, because any ape can round corners on a rectangle vector so why hire art school grads to make nice images in non-cliche visual containers? It seems to suggest that I should have travelled to a non-existent continent rather than make all the little local trips I’ve done instead:

This will fuel Flat Earth conspiracies, so please stop showing fake continents.

The next image of course makes no sense,

What is a region, BTW? And don’t Poland, Czech Republic, India, China, Germany, Portugal, UK, Ukraine, the US and Mexico count as countries in addition to Canada? 55 cities certainly sounds impressive, though, like I have my own G6.

Finally, we are allowed to rate this email with the 3 emojis representing all possible human emotions that have been identified by psychologists over the years, or which are all that can fit on a post-it note which is the primary form of expression for design thinking these days:

Where’s the ‘this email is ridiculous and the people who generated it are uncultured, shallow and overpaid’ emoji?

So now, it’s time to close the blog with a nod to the new task of turning off this location history function, which from what we know about Chrome’s tracking of people in Incognito mode, will allow Google to track me anyway despite my expressed wishes.

It’s time to go back to analog cellular technology, and maybe analog technology in general, because digitization has proven that no major company or government can be trusted to hire smart cultivated people or to not stalk us every nanosecond of our lives.

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