Rebecca Greenfield reports on the arrival of “extreme baby monitoring.” For a few hundred bucks, new parents will soon be able to outfit their putative bundles of joy with a variety of sensors—ankle monitors, “smart diapers,” even a networked onesie that sends respiration, temperature, and other data feeds to smartphones—that enable “a big-data approach to parenting.” Comments Greenfield, “By gathering information on your kid’s poop, sleep, and eating schedules, the idea goes, you can engineer a happier, healthier baby.” This does seem like an advance on the technology strategy I deployed in baby-rearing, which involved a pacifier and a martini.*
As a case in point, Greenfield tells the story of Yasmin Lucero, who meticulously tracked a variety of data on her baby Elle. Elle wasn’t a great sleeper—she cried a lot in her crib—and Yasmin hoped that Big Baby Data would unlock the reasons underlying the problem and point to a solution: “She wanted answers: Did she put Elle to bed too early? Too late? Give her too many naps? Parsing data, she thought, would help her figure it out.”
So, after months of grueling data collection and graphing, what did Big Data reveal? Absolutely nothing. “Per the data, Elle was just fussy.”
A waste of time? Not at all: “The results suggested Yasmin couldn’t engineer better naps, as she’d hoped. Just knowing that, however, made her feel better. ‘If you come to the conclusion that you have no control, then it’s okay to relax and just do whatever is convenient for you at the moment,’ she explained.” Let this be an inspiration to Big Data marketers. Large-scale data analysis may be a waste of time and money, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. After all, how will you know that Big Data has nothing to tell you if you don’t invest in it?
Come to think of it, as a marketing strategy this would also work quite well for Ouija Boards and the I Ching.
*Important legal notice: The baby gets the pacifier, the parent gets the martini.