by Tom Kaneshige

Your Hair Tells a Story That Bits or Bytes Can’t

May 29, 20122 mins
Data CenterSmartphones

In the age of big data, simple observation can be just as powerful.

A good friend of mine, Caroline, a master hair stylist in San Francisco, was working on my hair late last year when the gossip set in.

“Wow, your body and mental stress levels went through hell in the last few months,” she said.

“How did you know?” I asked.


A few months prior, I had a near-death blood infection that led to multiple emergency room visits, lengthy hospital stays, relapses and powerful antibiotics given intravenously for months.

“Well, you’re missing staggered lengths and your hair feels like straw,” she said.

Caroline went on to explain that hair typically grows half an inch every month. During that stressful period of my life, I shed hair. By the time Caroline cut it, I had new growth but was missing noticeable lengths of healthy hair.

Nasty side effects from the powerful antibiotics, coupled with poor nutrition, also meant my body had to divert energy. My hair was left by the wayside, which led to hair loss, dry hair and more white hair.

My hair now tells the story of what I consider the lost season of my life.

What does this have to do with technology? Absolutely nothing – and that’s the point.

So much is made of big data, analytics software, mobile apps that secretly (and not-so-secretly) harvest personal information, such as where you’ve been, what you’ve done and how you like to spend your money.

But valuable information doesn’t always come in the form of digital data. Sometimes, it’s a knowledgeable person observing the natural state of things. You can bet there’s no app for that.

White hair aside, I find it both refreshing and comforting that software really can’t provide that kind of insight.