Tag: big data

On the Porous Boundaries of Computer Science

The term “big data” [1] brings up the specter of a new positivism,  as another one in the series of many ideological tropes that have sought to supplant the qualitative and descriptive sciences with numbers and statistics.[2] But what do scientists think of big data? Last year, in a widely circulated blog post titled “The Big Data Brain Drain: Why Science is in Trouble,” physicist Jake VanderPlas made the argument that the real reason big data is dangerous is because it moves scientists from the academy to corporations. (read more...)

Death, Afterlife and Immortality of Bodies and Data

In separate incidents in early 2010 two children in Queensland Australia met untimely and violent deaths. In an increasingly common response, relatives, friends and strangers used social media to express grief, angst, solidarity, intimacy, and community, and to remember, mourn and share condolences for the young lives that had been lost. Social media is increasingly used for these kinds of expressions. However, social media is also often used for expressions of hatred, alienation and sociopathy. Within hours, the online commemorations for both children were defaced with abuse of the deceased and the bereaved, with links to pornographic sites, and with images that showed scenes of murder, race-hate and bestiality. Outrage ensued. Virulent condemnation of these so-called ‘RIP-Trolls’ flooded both social and mass media. The Australian Prime Minister commented; the Queensland Police Commissioner promised prosecution; and the Queensland State Premier demanded an apology from Facebook. The RIP-Trolls justified their actions as (read more...)

Update on Big Data and Ethnography, Ethnography of Documents

Readers of the CASTC blog may recall my posting earlier in the year regarding Big Data. I offer the following comments as an update on my previous comments and in hopes of contributing further to the discussion of this topic. My first comment is that the topic continues to be of considerable interest. Doubtless some of this follows from the fact that capacities to provide/make sense of Big Data are now an important part of corporate advertising, if not necessarily delivery of substantive benefits. Also, under more acceptable guises of things like “Data Science,” academic programs like mine in Informatics at Indiana University are moving feverishly to try to take advantage, of both the hype and any potentially real benefits. That despite the change in term, the actual concern in my view remains about quantity is revealed by the academic efforts underway to decide just what “big” implies, e.g., at (read more...)

EPIC 2013 Preview

The Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference is being held 15-18 September in London. EPIC is an important international conference for sharing insight on current and future practices of ethnography in industry. Next month’s conference promises to be very exciting and productive. The program boasts a wide variety of topics, including a number of papers that will quite likely be of interest to CASTAC and STS practitioners and scholars. Many of the themes in the program, such as big data, MOOCs, and energy have been hot topics for The CASTAC Blog in recent months. IS DATA THE NEW OIL? Several papers at EPIC will be discussing “Big Data,” which is a topic that is heating up and is germane for anthropological theory and practice. Big Data, which has been discussed in a prior post by David Hakken, has been designated as a new asset class akin to oil and has consequently (read more...)

Rethinking Scale in Social Media: An Ethnographic Perspective

Scale has been a recent buzzword in discussions of social and digital media, as our editor Patricia G. Lange traced out in her January retrospective post. From MOOCs to Big Data, emerging communication technologies are making possible (and visible) large-scale interactions that have been attracting attention from many quarters, including anthropology. I want to revisit this conversation by discussing further what scale means in the context of networked media, especially social and mobile technologies. Is scale the new global? On the cusp of the new millennium in the late 1990s, there was a lot of buzz over the global reach of the Internet, linked to broader interest in how new communication technologies were entwined with globalizing processes. The World Wide Web itself was envisioned as spanning the globe, while globalism infected the popular imagination. Nearly twenty years on, the Internet has yet to bring about global equality or democracy, though (read more...)

The Quantified Self Movement is not a Kleenex

by Dawn Nafus and Jamie Sherman The Quantified Self (QS) is a global movement of people who numerically track their bodies.  If you were to read popular press accounts like this, this and this, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a self-absorbed technical elite who used arsenals of gadgets to enact a kind of self-imposed panopticon, generating data for data’s sake. Articles like this could easily make us believe that this group unquestioningly accepts the authority of numerical data in all circumstances (a myth nicely debunked here). Kanyi Maqubela sees a lack of diversity in “the quantified self.”  On one hand, he is absolutely right to say that developing technologies to get upper middle class people who do yoga and shop at farmers markets to “control their behavior” is a spectacular misrecognition of the actual social problem at hand,[1] and one that can be attributed directly to (read more...)

Call for Papers: “Big Data, Big Questions, or, Accounting for Big Data” [Abstracts DUE October 1, 2012]

From Kate Crawford and Mary Gray at Microsoft Research, a call for papers on Big Data: “Big Data, Big Questions, or, Accounting for Big Data” International Journal of Communication Guest Editors: Kate Crawford Microsoft Research University of New South Wales Mary L. Gray Microsoft Research Indiana University Editor: Larry Gross University of Southern California Previously isolated data sets, from social media and demographic surveys to city maps and urban planning documents, are now routinely interlinked. Combining separate, often disparate, multi-terabyte sets of information reframes our capacity to see into the behaviors of – and relationships between – people, institutions and things. Researchers in fields as varied as computer science, geography, sociology, marketing, biology, economics, among many others, use the term “big data” to capture a wide range of activities revolving around accessing and analyzing these vast quantities of information. What are the implications of big data as a cultural, technological (read more...)

Dealing with Big Data: David Hakken Weighs In

Although anthropologists have been working with large-scale data sets for quite some time, the term “big data” is currently being used to refer to large, complex sets of data combined from different sources and media that are difficult to wrangle using standard coding schemes or desktop database software. Last year saw a rise in STS approaches that try to grapple with questions of scale in research, and the trend toward data accumulation seems to be continuing unabated. According to IBM, we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. This means that 90% of the data in the world was created during the last 2 years. Big data are often drawn and aggregated from a very large variety of sources, both personal and public, and include everything from social media participation to surveillance footage to consumer buying patterns. Big data sets exhibit complex relationships and yield information to entities who (read more...)