You, the digital butterfly

Image of a butterfly in a fractal pattern

Thanks to movies, you’ve probably heard the term "the butterfly effect".

The butterfly effect is the idea that small changes can have large consequences. Edward Lorenz, an MIT meteorology professor in the 1960s, suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might cause a tornado.

It’s a big universe

Last week I wrote that I am practicing doing nothing. I lie outside on the grass and look at the tops of the trees and the sky.

When I do this, it reminds me that I am a small blip in the universe. I am one person in a population of eight billion, on one planet in a galaxy of 100 million planets. And that is one galaxy in a universe of millions of galaxies.

It’s a big digital universe

The digital universe is huge and growing. And we are just small blips in the big data of that digital universe.

We forget that big data is made up of all the tiny things we do in our digital life. We also forget how much big data affects us.

Big data is watching impacting you

Our digital view of the world is not impartial. Algorithms outside our control determine what we see on social media and search. (That’s why you keep seeing an ad for an item you only googled once more than a year ago.)

We know this in theory, but we usually ignore it. This week, however, I felt the impact of Amazon’s big data.

The real price is …

According to economic theory, the relationship between supply and demand determines prices. That’s why the price of red roses doubles around Valentine’s Day.

Prices can adjust quickly in the digital world. When the demand for transport increases due to bad weather or a bus strike, Uber prices go up immediately.

Of course Amazon uses its exabytes of data to dynamically adjust prices. I’ve learned that the price for the same Python textbook will be different almost every time we present the course.

But this week, the price Amazon showed me was different to the price it showed one of the delegates. Same day, different customer profile. Somewhere we had flapped our digital wings, and a little pricing tornado happened.

Flap your wings

Every time the power goes off in South Africa, we lose a little more trust in the future. It’s easy to despair. I don’t know if one person can change the world. But if our digital wings can make a difference, maybe our real-world actions can too.

I always enjoy hearing your opinion. It’s a flap of your wings that improves my day, so please share your comments.

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