Associations with Big Data tend to be pretty clinical – it’s often considered a tool to make more accurate scientific statements, identify trends in social media and news, and develop products by gauging customer response. In other words, the cloud computing tool was largely viewed as a shortcut to making money and creating new offerings for the public, whether that was a breakthrough medication, a new way to communicate wirelessly, or something the world had never even heard of. A less common but equally fascinating use of the technology, however, is as a storytelling mechanism – a capability that can be the most powerful use of all.
The value of storytelling
The concept of storytelling and the value of its teller is a tradition ingrained in basic human culture that has existed for thousands of years. In generations past, before the written word and widespread publishing of books and magazines, storytellers would enthrall listeners with memorized speeches in the manner of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and Homer’s “Odyssey.” A recent piece on the Fast CoCreate blog detailed some of the finer points of this tradition.
“Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story,” the source stated. “In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.”
These statements have plenty of evidence to back them up – stories sell. The movie and publishing industry bring in billions every year, and even our most prevalent social media tools, especially Facebook, are designed to tell the “story” of a user’s life online by highlighting what events and posts have received the most attention. This is just one example of mass data being boiled down to a basic storyline, but it’s a valuable one. Even Snapchat, the ever-present application that is famous for showing a user an image for a few seconds that disappears shortly thereafter, has introduced the “Snapchat Stories” feature that lets users create a narrative from their brief messages.
How Big Data tells a story with accuracy and impact
There’s no doubt that the science behind Big Data is inescapable, but some data scientists have struggled to transform this information into a palatable story for the everyday user to consume. Jeff Bladt and Bob Filbin, data scientists for the activist charity-driven website Dosomething.org, wrote about this process, with which they’re still constantly experimenting, in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review.