It should be clear to everyone by now that the digital age has brought on a social and cultural revolution. Beyond the fluidification of national boundaries, at least as far as the circulation and consumption of cultural manifestation is concerned, and the enormous shift in economics and finance, the digital age presents us with something that was never seen before: limitless recording space. Free of the constrictions of physical supports, like paper or tape, we can dispose of an infinite amount of data. We have the concrete possibility of recording every single thing in this world, and we already do. Centuries from now, our civilization will not leave any mysteries to those who will study it. The only question being whether the data could last that long.
Those hundreds of exabytes of information are the so-called “big data”. They are continually produced and stored all around the globe. The volume and speed at which they come is the cause of what has been defined as information asymmetry: not the lack of data, but the inability to process it because of its enormous amount. This is something that can be observed, in a smaller scale, in our daily lives. We scroll through page after page, but of much of the content the take in actually sticks with us and helps us in our conscious evaluation of the world around?
This gives ground to a curious phenomenon: for the first time in history, human beings are not struggling to collect information, but to process it. They are not pushing their creativity to extract conclusions from insufficient information, but to find new ways to decipher it. This is where the bond between big data and journalism came to be. The ability to clarify, contextualize and “translate” big data into simpler notions is the key to effective data journalism. Even more, it is the key to making journalism that deeply matters to human society. As relevant to our lives as local news, crime news and political news may be, big data give us a greater scope on our world: it can allow us to map it, to understand the global context in which we all live. To be an active part of the revolution, as it has been so many times before during history, contemporary journalism must integrate the new tools of big data analysis as soon and as effectively as possible. But readers and writers alike must bear in mind that data does not lie, but it does not speak either: a critical mind has to be employed to make any benefit out of it. So, it must be also clear that processing data, compiling statistics and presenting infographics is not some mindless reporting of self-explanatory symptoms: it is the gateway to a deep diagnosis of our global society.