As I read a long Foreign Affairs article about Big Data and its ramifications this morning, it struck a real chord with a passage I’d just read in James Gleick’s interesting (although rambling) book The Information.
The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
He describes the use of the newfangled telegraph to send for the first time almost instantaneous news about the weather in different, distant parts of the country – fine in York, raining in Manchester. “The telegraph enabled people to think of the weather as a widespread and interconnected affair, rather than an assortment of local surprises.” Gleick quotes a commentator of 1848: “The telegraph may be made a vast national barometer.” (Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet is a brilliant book about this particular communication medium.)
The possibility of weather reports led to the 1854 etablishment of the Meteorlogical Office by the Government, headed by Admiral FitzRoy, famously captain of The Beagle. In 1860 he began issuing the first weather forecasts. The science of meteorology, and understanding of a global interconnected system, was built on the foundation of the local weather information conveyed by telegraph.
The new book, Big Data, by Cukier and Mayer-Schoenberger appreciates the transformative scope of today’s Big Data 2.0 – in the article they write: “Big data is different: it marks a transformation in how society processes information. In time, big data might change our way of thinking about the world.” What the change will be is impossible to predict.
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think