Big Data: The Clay of the Universe

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Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor, and Kenneth Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 7. Print.

Big Data has opened my eyes to the inherent power of data and information. I have always thought of data and information as just numbers or facts – items with no true depth or importance. However, I have come to realize that data is like clay; it will lay idly and remain unimpressive until it is molded into something beautiful. One example is that of our Buzzcards. Data is constantly recorded about which buildings I enter and exit, which dining halls I eat at, and much more. Initially, this information seems unimportant. Who cares if I went to Woodies at 7PM? Datafication involves gathering very large samples of data, however. When data is drawn from every GT student’s Buzzcard, suddenly one can determine which dining hall is the most popular, so that the least popular one can be inspected and improved. One can also determine what time students are generally returning to their dorms, and perhaps campus police can be notified what time they need to be the most alert. Instances such as these shed light on how present datafication is in even everyday life and how it can make people’s lives better.

Although datafication is useful in many ways, I am skeptical about the validity of its usefulness on smaller scales. One such example is social media; I do not feel it is worth allowing these medias to track my every move simply so that I can be provided with relevant advertisements.

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Collecting such an intense amount of data seems to be superfluous as per its use. It is ultimately left up to the individual to decide how much clay he or she would like to add to the pot. Though I feel that datafication is not ideal in every situation, I find it difficult to deny that using data and information in this way as a whole is revolutionary. Understanding “data and how it can be used” will help us understand the world in ways we never have before.


3 thoughts on “Big Data: The Clay of the Universe”

  1. What you wrote here made me rethink about how I view the topic as well. There are some cool connections that one could make between “Big Data” and “The Information,” the first and foremost being that this information revolution is occurring not because of the internet or processing power, but because of a combination of what the two passages talked about. Like you and “Big Data” said, datafication has been around for centuries, but this is different because information is now a quantifiable resource with the advent of the bit, as Gleick wrote in “The Information.” These two things working in conjunction allow for large volumes of facts to be used as business models, as there is now a real, tangible value attached to a true or false.

  2. The way you and your chosen excerpt describe data reminds me of a living organism, always growing and becoming more complex. And how companies are constantly being formed, taken over, and destroyed is similar to natural selection in that it is “survival of the fittest.” I think this is an interesting parallel that transforms the way we think of data and the business of culture.

  3. The clay simile was interesting how people can mold it into something beautiful or useful. I agree that data has been here since whenever information was first relayed but I believe that today’s technology is what helps make data useful. You say it isn’t today’s technology that is spreading datafication but it really is. The internet tells you all the recent news but if we didn’t have that and relied on mail then the recent news doesn’t become recent anymore.

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