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.

I often use a couple slides to introduce 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 luminescent cube in our logo) as compared to the black box regime of the credit bureau (the Borg cube, yes I am a Trekkie).

I then suggest that we each are our own symphony and personal data we add, contribute, and others glean about us from across the web are notes (I am a musical Trekkie).

You could argue that F sharp or E flat in my symphony are indistinguishable from all other F sharps and E flats, but they add up to a distinctive representation of me. Music metaphors can illuminate the animate aspects of us that seem lost in most big data systems.

The beef between two composers

Reminds me of something I read about Brahms recently. It caught my eye because 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 followers said: “better Brahms’ ‘much ado out of nothing’, than to do nothing out of so much, as Wagner did!” Wagner’s compositions, it must be said, have been described in scatalogical terms. Here I will just say that Wagner arguably represents the big data school of compositions.

In a sense, the call to action I hope all data scientists will hear in debates about privacy and that data about individuals is the Brahms school. 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 a bloated data hub.

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