Brahms vs Wagner

It has been a year since we began our isolation. I continue to sign up to as many Zoom conferences and panels as possible. It has been a time of learning. The upside.

Today I am remembering an extended exchange on the topic of whether data is the new oil. Here are some excerpts, the latter explaining the title of this post.

Oil not so much

My beef with the oil analogy is that oil is fungible. Data about us is not. The fact that we are made of water adds an interesting wrinkle so I’m going to have to meditate on that a bit.

I often use a couple slides to introduces talks about the uses of data and algorithms in commercial credit in which I contrast the vision of willingly sharing our data on our terms (the cube in our logo) as compared to the pervasive black box regime (the Borg cube, yes I am a Trekkie).

Concept is–We each are our own symphony and personal data we add, contribute, and others glean about us across the web are notes. (Yeah, I’m a musician and draw on my studies in music theory and orchestration to build digital platforms.)

You could argue that F sharp or E flat in my symphony are indistinguishable from all other like notes but they add up to a distinctive representation of me which is something I think music can illuminate the animate aspects of us which get lost in most big data systems today.

The beef between two composers

Reminds me of something I read about Brahms recently (my orchestration final was based on a Romanze he wrote for piano). He was a transitional figure, anchoring his compositions in the “controls” of classicism but extending this structure with all the warmth and lyricism of the Romantic era.

This provoked the ridicule of Wagnerians who with all the snooty disregard musicians hold dear argued that “Brahms made– let us borrow from Shakespeare — ‘much ado out of nothing.'” To which Brahms adherents said: “better Brahms’ ‘much ado out of nothing’, than to do nothing out of so much, as Wagner did!” Wagner, it must be said, has been described in colorful terms. Here I will just say he created the big data school of compositions.

And that’s the call to action I hope all data scientists will hear in debates about privacy and that data about us. So much better to convey eloquence or let us define ourselves out of a minimum of privacy sensitive data than to create froth if not outright deception out of [way too much data] a bloated data hub.

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