Big Data

The advent of the essential ubiquity of computing devices has seriously changed the amount of data that can be analyzed. My computer, for example, can churn out something on the order of 3 or 4 billion operations in a second, and it's not particularly high-tech. Essentially, we can do some pretty amazing things with numbers these days.

Computing has also helped people obtain data that was previously unattainable, or at least, very difficult. Increased public interest in information has made sideline actuaries of us all.

And of course, to accommodate our nerdly desires, there are more fountains of data than ever before. If you want population, weather, traffic, advertising, or most other normally sought after types of data, they’re often available on the web in one form or another. The US and UK governments, for example, have websites specifically designed to provide raw data to citizens willing to analyze it.

For analyzing that data, there are improved graphical representations, and a subculture of infographics specialists is emerging on the web. Online newspapers and other publications love printing these graphics—they allow a whole lot of data to be viewed at a glance, and they’re interesting, which makes them likely to go viral and earn lots of money.

Of course, the data is useless without an analysis, and that analysis often leads to interesting and counterintuitive results, such as “Teachers don’t actually value creativity in students”. In the modern world, for an idea to really take off, it has to buck some establishment paradigm or other.

In order to make the data tell a story, however, you have to sift through it. In today’s world, there are, as mentioned, a galaxy of datapoints being produced, and the task for any real infonaut out there is not finding it, or gathering it, but crunching it.

This presents a problem for your average data landlubber, though, in that we’re all presented with information overload every day. It’s not as though the internet is off-limits to anyone who doesn’t have a master’s in statistics. Whether it be in the form of pieces of narrative, bits from the social web, rambling blogposts, or just plain news, we are now forced to learn to navigate the sea of data ourselves.