chapter 5 Getting a sense of Big Data and well-being
5 Getting a sense of Big Data and well-being
Can Big Data improve understanding of well-being and can they harm well-being? The chapter opens by asking what even is ‘Big Data’, and is ‘it’ actually new when large datasets have been valuable in understanding population-level health, wealth and well-being for 6000 years. It reviews the failed promises of Big Data to predict and prevent pandemics, including COVID-19, comparing new data infrastructures with old ones. It presents examples and case studies of social media data and data mining on large scales, and for smaller organisations to understand how we feel. We find there are more limits to Big Data and new data technologies to understand well-being than are made explicit, and question the ethics of Big Data insights and their monetary value in the context of well-being.
5.1What even is ‘Big Data’?
Big data generally capture what is easy to ensnare—data that are openly expressed (what is typed, swiped, scanned, sensed, etc.; people’s actions and behaviours; the movement of things)—as well as data that are the ‘exhaust’, a by-product … It takes these data at face value, despite the fact that they may not have been designed to answer specific questions and […]continue reading →
5.2Big data – a new way to understand well-being?
“Big Data”, was cited 40,000 times in 2017 in Google Scholar, about as often as “happiness”! (Bellet and Frijters 2019) The datafication of social life has led to a profound transformation in how society is ordered, decisions are made, and citizens are governed. (Hintz and Brand n.d., 2) Digital devices and data are becoming an ever more pervasive and part […]continue reading →
5.2.1Why we need to ask critical questions of data in the context of well-being
Many issues related to Big Data don’t have clear-cut answers, especially where well-being is concerned. While data reveal details of the vulnerable, often involving risk for these people and their communities, the State uses data systems that people increasingly need to be a part of to access healthcare and welfare support , some researchers use Big Data to reveal the […]continue reading →
Another major reason why we need to ask critical questions about Big Data and well-being concerns the financial value of knowing more about people and the financial value of the systems that sort people for public services and welfare distribution . Beyond public services, the value of the new ways that Big Data can work is not just in knowing […]continue reading →
5.3Are Big Data even actually new?
While data are ‘sold’ to us as ‘the new oil’ , large datasets, and their use to understand human behaviour, are not new; neither is the relationship between governments, commerce and value, when it comes to data. Mary Poovey’s A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society  describes the rise of […]continue reading →
5.3.1The darker side of historical well-being data and commercial gain
With the rise of market research came increased interest in people’s preferences, and in what made them happy or gave them pleasure . This involved capturing subjective well-being data, as well as cultivating communications to imply that owning or consuming certain things would increase someone’s well-being in some way. The aim here in this context, of course, was to change […]continue reading →
5.4A case study on the promise of commercial Big Data
One of the most high-profile cases of the possibilities of Big Data involves a tale that begins in 2009 when a new virus was discovered. This new illness spread quickly and combined elements of bird flu and swine flu. This story opens Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier’s book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Will Live, Work and Think, […]continue reading →
5.4.1Linking Big Datasets – for well-being?
On New Year’s Day, 2020, a Canadian health monitoring company alerted its customers to the COVID-19 outbreak, some days before the US’ CDC or the World Health Organization (WHO) alerted anyone . Of course, the disease was not yet called COVID-19, and it was not known that it was to be a global pandemic. At this point, a cluster of […]continue reading →
5.5Social media data – a game changer?
I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives. (Sir Simon Wessely, president of the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists in Campbell 2017) Social media platforms have an interesting relationship to well-being. They are often demonised as bad for well-being, especially for the younger generation who are thought […]continue reading →
5.5.1Social media data-mining in social and cultural sectors
Social media data mining is not always a large-scale affair requiring APIs and special software. As found in a six-month research project with city councils and a city-based museums group in the north of England , many small organisations use quite basic techniques to do this work. Social and cultural policy sectors are reliant on understanding well-being data, as improving […]continue reading →
5.5.2Understanding where people are and how they feel using Twitter data
Of course, it is not only what people say that can be mined, but also where they are. One research project attempted to gauge community well-being using Twitter data from between 27 September and 10 December 2010 . Interestingly, as an aside, this coincided with the UK’s Measuring National Well-being debate which launched in November of that year. The researchers […]continue reading →
Despite the conflicting evidence from different approaches to ‘Big Data’, people are keen to find new ways to harness them to answer the age-old policy and philosophy questions around people’s well-being. The increase in well-being research coincides with an increase in research with and on Big Data. Both have possibilities and challenges, but could they be exacerbated by combining well-being […]continue reading →
5.7Fit for Purpose? Health and well-being tracking and apps
Recent technological developments have seen a rise in people using wearable technologies and their mobile phones to track their movements and behaviour. These include: periods of activity, menstruation, what they have eaten, how they have slept, how far they have walked and their heart rate, in order to gain an overall picture of their health and general well-being. These practices […]continue reading →