Welcome to the future.

Mapping Big Data: Virtual Cartographies & the Information Highway


As we move further and further into the 21st century and “Big Data” seems to loom around every corner, philosopher and feminist, Gayatri Spivak, writes about globalization and information:

The most pernicious presupposition today is that globalization has happily happened in every aspect of our lives. Globalization can never happen to the sensory equipment of the experiencing being except insofar as it always was implicit in its vanishing outlines. Globalization takes place only in capital and data. Everything else is damage control.

We are inundated with data. Quite literally, so to speak, as we absorb, process and interpret physical and emotional stimuli. Data is nothing new. Being able to collect – and make sense of – large quantities of data however, is where innovation occurs. Making data “talk” is the objective here; we must learn how to manipulate data in order to make it useful. In some ways, negotiating the future of Big Data is akin to producing topographical maps of the world. As maps measure distance, mark rivers, draw deserts and oceans, Big Data maps the terrain of the virtual world, gathering digital footprints in order to reconstruct everything from new trends in consumer behavior to loopholes in national security.

Gayatri Spivak makes an important point regarding the relationship between data and globalization. If globalization takes place in and through data, do we lose sight of the individual and the local, or “the other”, in our attempts to visual big data trends? How do we account for the raw experiences that simply don’t fit our present statistical models? Our experiencing selves, as Spivak might say, are now more important than ever before. Phenomenal experience – experience learned through the senses rather than through thought or intuition – may well serve as the linchpin of Big Data’s actionable future. Phenomenal experience connects us to a living, breathing world, and reminds and reinforces that we too, are living, breathing creatures. Our local and global futures are created in tandem, just as individual selves and our collective cities, states and nations evolve in dialogue with one another. If we are to proceed successfully, we must become data stewards. We must care for outliers, exceptions and statistical deviations. And we must consider the cultural, historical and ethnological lenses through which we examine and interpret the data we record and measure.

In trend forecasting, my work involves anticipating future experiences and outcomes. These experiences can be very concrete, i.e. how technology will be incorporated into our homes and cities, or how social media will help crowdsource democratic elections around the world. These experiences can also be less tangible, i.e. anticipating how a smart home or a smart city will change our day to day rituals and routines, or how they will make us feel and think and question and innovate. Trend forecasters must be practical visionaries; able to discern how a product should look and feel, and what need or scenario has necessitated its production.  Big Data will be crucial to the future of trend forecasting if we develop the right models and methods from which to extract insight and discern conclusions.

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Today’s mood boards were inspired by my own digital footprint across Pinterest.