Cutting Through the Big Data Hype
No matter if it's music or books, food or opinions - Big Data knows what you love. Or who you love. It will help bring down crime, empower the weak, eradicate poverty or overcome deadly diseases. This hype laden rhetoric surrounding Big Data oozes missionary zeal. That's partly because the conversation on the issue is dominated by those who stand to gain most from it: the high priests from Silicon Valley, corporate tech evangelists, and their start-up disciples around the globe, as well as their supporting acts in the wider business world, media and government.
Criticism of the dark side of Big Data - from surveillance and privacy breaches to the alleged demise of free will and human agency - is strong. And not just since Edward Snowden. But it's typically confined to vocal individuals or groups, or particular vignettes of the Big Data phenomenon. Wider ranging, institutional and interdisciplinary critiques of Big Data have not yet developed, despite - or precisely because of - the breakneck speed at which Big Data penetrates many areas of human life. And that includes the academic world, which is happy enough to make use of big data but has a much harder time reflecting on the new paradigm.
I'd like to suggest that the rapid pace at which Big Data develops as well as its massive reach pose a particular challenge for institutional academic research into the phenomenon. However, looking at the work of some of the more prolific scholars on the issue, there may be promising ways forward."
Dr. Ranty Islam is multimedia editor at Deutsche Welle and was Journalist in Residence at the WZB in 2015.