With the growth of computing power available to us, we are not only able to manipulate data in new ways but also take into account vast amounts of it. Furthermore, there is increasing comprehensiveness in the collection of data not to mention the detail we are now able to delve into.
I will start with some more traditional date – demographics. We have already been extremely competent in dealing with a wide variety of data, starting at the point of collection up to manipulation. This has been the manner in which we examine the development of nations and whether we are making progress. In the past couple of years however there has been the growth of composite indexes, which look to tell us a lot more, notably HDI becoming IHDI with an accounting for inequality. We are able to develop data this way due to the increasing ease of collecting it.
Here we may differentiate however between developed and developing countries, as access to the internet and mediums of communication leads to even more niche data being collected, allowing us to examine our lives at a micro level while still in macro scale. The best available example of this is London; the BBC recently published images of London in terms of data maps. This verifies the extent to which all elements of our lives are being put into data in a form that may be analyzed and visualized.
This data map shows luminance of photos taken of tourist attractions upload to the popular photo sharing website Flickr. While it is true that not everyone will use the photo sharing website, or share their photos, we can still see what kind of tourist traffic certain areas get. The map not only showing popular destinations but also routes that may be taken between destinations, the above is only an excerpt of a London wide map. This is a level beyond info-graphics and a type of data that would not be gained through taking a census.
The data map above shows the route taken of daily commutes between the Home Counties and London. This gives an idea of the most popular travel routes, and where the typical commuting population resides. Furthermore, it shows the willingness of people to commute specific distances. A step beyond this would consider the tube travel routes, and those travelling by car or bus (which could theoretically be achieved by considering those who pay congestion charge). The step further taken here is the data for the exit of London train stations shown below:
This gives a more in-depth look at how people travel, and where they travel. The complexity of this data is made more tangible through the map, however in this we could consider CO2 emissions, cost of travel, and a whole host of other factors. This type of traffic data is exceptional in where it may be taken, giving us a level of insight previously not afforded by simple census data.
We can even go into a niche understanding of specific areas, in this example looking at twitter traffic in regards to the popularity of London football clubs:
The growth of big data is what I believe will take economics to the next level of understanding of human behavior and decision-making. Think of the amount of data social networks such as Facebook and Twitter hold about users, or Google in regards to popular searches and specific search traits of people in a given country. Not only is the Internet providing a better image of our lives through data, but also there is increasing amount of data collected from practical activity. Take the increasing use of black boxes in cars, giving information about average speed, intensity of braking, time of driving, etc.
This type of data has many applications, but I believe it will be the most useful to microeconomics. As it is the area where we have to leave most things as theoretical based on at times loose relationships, this depth of data provides the opportunity to delve further into our behavior. Take for example the classic work or shirk scenario, considering leisure hours and potential pay offs.
As an economic community I feel there is a movement towards ensuring that a large variety of data is made publicly available. Of note, Christine Lagarde announced today in Washington D.C. that all of the IMF’s data will be available for free online from the 1st of January. Meaning that there will be an even greater plethora of data to pick and choose from.
All images are subject to copyright – London: The Information Capital by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti
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