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Big Data

More than five million emails have been sent in the time you started reading this sentence. Are we drowning in data?

When most people think about data it is not something which they consider with fondness. With increasing amounts of information fighting for our attention every day, it is not surprising that we are now nearly drowning in data.

In an average day, it is reported that our brains are attempting to deal with around 34 GB of data (Tech 21 century, 2017). This amounts to approximately 23 words per second across 12 hours. Whilst there are arguments that state that we have always had to manage a great deal of information, undoubtedly the internet has led to an increase in the amount of data we take in each day.

Internetlivestats (2017), for example, estimate that every second on the internet sees 791 new Instagram photos added, 1,261 Tumblr posts made, 2,665 Skype calls undertaken, 7,678 tweets sent, 69,947 YouTube videos watched, 46,352 gb of internet traffic generated, and 2,605,056 emails sent (67% of which are spam).

Psychologist Edward Hallowell considers that this is having a devastating effect on us:

Never in human history, (have) our brains had to work so much information as today. We have now a generation of people who spend many hours in front of a computer monitor or a cell phone and who are so busy in processing the information received from all directions, so they lose the ability to think and feel. Most of this information is superficial. People are sacrificing the depth and feeling and cut off from other people (Tech 21 century, 2017).

Whilst increasing amounts of data are therefore considered to be having a detrimental effect on people, it is also worth considering that the development of big data has also allowed new and interesting data sets to be captured. And, the rise in internet technologies and computer programs have, at the same time, allowed this data to be presented in new and attractive ways.

Author and data visualisation journalist David McCandless is one of the leading developers of data visualisation. In his book Information is Beautiful (2010), McCandless has developed a variety of infographics which explore and provide context to a number of different issues. He demonstrates how the way in which we are living our lives online allow for new and interesting patterns and trends to be identified. For example, the graph below – pulled from the book – provides the times that relationship breakups are mentioned on Facebook and offers an indication of patterns of those breakups

While infographics demonstrate how datasets can be used in new ways to better understand human behaviour, there are also a number of data visualisations now made available on the internet that can be considered to be beautiful, as well. In the visualisation by NATS below, all flights in and out of Europe are shown in this 2-minute video.

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