As we enter the age of ‘Big Data’, we’re at risk of excluding ourselves from decision-making a little too hastily.

danah boyd and Kate Crawford quote Chris Anderson, ex-Editor-in-Chief of Wired, speaking in praise of what he terms ‘The Petabyte Age’:

This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

It is true that millions of companies are running billions of A/B tests on trillions of data points to try to determine how to improve their services.

But even though examining the data might tell you what you’re doing wrong, it can’t tell you how to put it right.

If A is what you have now, what is B?

B must be defined, built, designed by humans.



boyd, d. and Crawford, K. (2011), Six Provocations for Big Data. Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society, September 2011.

Full text of draft paper:


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