What's the Big Deal With 'Big Data'?

Ben Hecht contemplates the currency of the digital age and how it will transform the cities we live in.
March 14, 2012, 6am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Ours is a world driven by data. Every step we take, whether it's the swipe of a club card at the supermarket or a simple Google search, leaves a trail of information about what we like and how we behave. Businesses and institutions have long been harvesting this data to better serve their clientele, ushering in a new model for making decisions and relating to the world. Dubbed Big Data, this trend has major implications for the public sphere as well, Hecht suggests:

  1. Informed Decisionmaking: "Data collection systems have evolved rapidly over the last decade with more sophisticated and varied sources for capturing information including 311 calls, educational performance, and health care," allowing for a more responsive government.
  2. Civic Change: As public agencies make more and more data publicly available, citizens can better engage in the democratic process, "improving civic life generally, from real-time bus schedules to virtual land use planning."
  3. Behavior Prediction: "Education leaders [in North Carolina] are using high-tech data analytics... to predict who might be at risk of falling off track and even failing to graduate high school." In addition, police forces may soon analyze crime statistics "to better understand where police need to be and when to provide the greatest benefit to communities."

According to Hecht, "How we harness Big Data for common good will be a big question for the next decade."

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Published on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 in Living Cities
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