Big Data

This past Wednesday I visited the Chicago: City of Big Data exhibit at the Chicago Architectural Foundation. I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and interactive it was. The main focus of the exhibit was how data is collected and put to use in an urban environment.

I was really interested by the “Your Block: Revealing Chicago’s Data Infrastructure” display. It outlined the variety of methods used to collect all kinds of data, from fire, water, and river sensors, to speed cameras and energy meters.

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This display mentions a dozen different ways data is collected in urban environments.

As a history lover, I also really liked the several displays that offered a look at Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago and how data has been collected and used to adapt these plans, including the development of Lake Shore Drive.

I took an interactive quiz that accompanied the “You: Your Data Trail” display, and (no surprises here) my results said I am a “social butterfly.” Basically, as an active social media user, my interests and activities are freely available to marketers, so companies have a fairly easy time directing relevant content to me.

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How many ways do you share data about yourself daily?

As an avid Twitter user, I was really intrigued by the display about what information tweets can offer besides the 140 characters themselves. “What Can 6,922,484 Tweets Tell Us About Livability” posed the question of what makes a place livable and how it can be analyzed by social media activity.

As a general optimist, I think the continual growth in data collection technologies and analysis offers great opportunities for the future. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say it will ever be a utopia, but I think there’s a lot of room for good to come of it. I don’t know where the line gets drawn, but I say that as long as the endless amounts of data being collected daily is put to use in improving the world around me, I’m fine sharing it. Where do you draw the line? What drawbacks to you see to this constant accumulation of data?


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