Big Data: Magic Bullet or Loaded Gun?

In the article, “We’re going to tell people how to interview databases;” The rise of data (big and small) in journalism, author Viktor Mayer-Schönberger reflects on his new book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.

On the bright side, big data seems incredibly tantalizing. Having access to vast amounts of information will change the way we live, and especially the way journalists do their jobs. It can help editors discover the information that their audiences crave and dig for online. He suggests that algorithms might better know what readers may want to read than editors, and that’s a bitter pill for some “high priests of mainstream media.”

Also in the “pro Big Data” column, you might consider the fact that this data, when used effectively, can help back up the instincts of journalists, and even shed new light on what might be popular with readers.

“I recognize that in some ways I have good instincts, but in some ways I am blindfolded. I am not going to blindly accept the data, but I’m not going to be blind to it either,”  “Big Data,” co-author Kenneth Cukier imagines some editors commenting.

This is also why he proposes the idea that in the future journalists will not only be taught how to interview people, but also how to interview big data banks. This seemingly less than human “informational science” may be an irresistible and illuminating beacon that can shed new light on very human behaviors and trends that people will want to know about.

However, Big Data has its dark side, of which everyone should be wary of, and one that is very concerning. Once data falls into the wrong hands, or is abused by an authoritarian government, the situation looks dire.

When talking about the “dark shadows where big data can lead us,” Mayer-Schönberger makes a familiar sounding comment: “The culprit is not big data itself, but how we use it.”


This statement reminds me of the NRA and gun lobby’s favorite saying…”Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” So if big data isn’t the culprit but those who abuse it are potential culprits, how can we be assured that our data will be safe from those who may invade our privacy, or do us harm?

Who is protecting our privacy from big data? Who controls the data banks, and how can we control what data about us is shared? These are questions you’re not likely to get answers to in big data’s data banks.

But they’re questions that every person should be asking.

Caroline O’Donovan, We’re going to tell people how to interview databases;” The rise of data (big and small) in journalism, Nieman Lab, March 8, 2013.

Author: DigiDan

Hi, I'm Dan. I live in Stamford Ct, and work in New York City. I am the father of two very creative kids, both graduates from Syracuse, and the husband to an amazing woman who is going back to school as I am. I work as a creative director and copywriter at a NYC advertising agency and have lived over 4 years of my life onboard MetroNorth, the commuter train that goes into New York (that's 2 hours/day, 5 day/week, 50 weeks/year, for 28 years - Do the Math!). In my spare time, I love playing music, piano mostly, and I spend inordinate amounts of time at my health club. That's enough for'll get to know me more from my posts!

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