The revolutions explored so far this semester have mostly addressed events in the past; the periods of adjustment following these have ended, and their effects have been implemented in society. Khalid Albaih’s lecture addressed a current ongoing political revolution in Egypt. The societal implications of political revolutions can be overtly demonstrated to the rest of the world using images, publications, art. Other, more abstract, can be difficult to detect and their effects on society sometimes go unacknowledged. The world is currently going through one of these more abstract revolutions. With the development of technology, humans have obtained the ability to gather massive amounts of data, so much data, in fact, that we cannot review and process it all.
What is data? In latin it translates to “a thing given.” Facts and evidence are the results of sets of data, which help demonstrate the significance of data to society. The use of data arose as a tool in science around the 17th century. During the era of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution people could no longer rely on their assumptions to explain phenomena of the natural world, they needed quantifiable proof.
Francis Bacon emphasized the use of images and visual representations of matter to describe natural phenomenon. The use of words to explain processes was considered to be less scientific than visual representations. Robert Hooke’s Micrographia was a perfect example of how images worked better than words to describe scientific knowledge. His book contained images of flies under a microscope, which allowed normal people to actually see what they looked like up close instead of relying on the words of scientists in combination their own imaginations for descriptions. Visual representations were seen as more scientifically accurate since they relinquished the influence of subjective imagination that follows literary descriptions.
Today, illustrations or pictures, like Hooke’s, are not considered to be the most effective way of demonstrating scientific knowledge to a community. To further purge subjectivity from scientific processes, people have started to show information in purely quantitative and measurable terms, numbers. Now, graph and charts are used to explain processes. For example, in the 19th and early 20th century scientists looked images of embryos at different under a microscope to visualize patterns of allometric growth. This comparing images would sufficiently serve as evidence of allometric growth patterns. Today, these images would need supplemental graphs comparing the precise measurements of allometric structures at different stages of growth. As data has become more complex, the modes are portraying the meanings of data have also evolved.
The development of complex software and computational tools have changed the way that we handle data. In the 17th century, scientists dealt with the question of whether or not a set of data was obtained under subjective procedures. Today, people rely on technology, which is assumed to be objective, to gather sets of data. The questions now are, what do we do with it all, how do we decide which data sets are worth exploring, and how can we portray this “big data” to society? Storing data is also a modern dilemma. The massive amounts of data produces with modern technology may be overwhelming and most of it probably serves no use for society at large. However, if people are able to create programs that can effectively collate and organize “big data,” more of it could be useful to society.