In 1997, the idea of “data smog” arose as the title of a book by David Shenk. It referred to the glut of information that was supposedly squeezing out everything else, including contemplation and joy, but it can be taken to characterize the next phase, the Age of the Internet. Like smog, data seemed to be everywhere, and there were major organizations that were greedy for it. As the net developed, data smog became “weaponized” as the internet’s primary business model. Soshana Zuboff’s 2018 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, documented this.
To accommodate the cosmic levels of often loosely connected data the internet was generating, unstructured databases and unstructured data formats became popular, including linked data, graph structures, JSON, data lakes, and the like.
Concurrent with the Age of the Internet, we had a mini Age of Big Data, a term coined in the early 1990s, which gained strength in the millennium’s second decade. Because Big Data promised that advanced statistical analyses could find unexpected correlations in large data collections, data became a source of surprises, inverting its meaning from the Age of Mainframes.