Christian Pentzold

This article unpacks the short-lived but momentous buzz around big data. Although talk about big data was once widespread, little is known about the efforts animating its semantics. Tracing this sociotechnical imaginary, we revisit how business insiders and IT commentators fueled the ephemeral yet potent excitement around the term. Our genealogical examination rests on a selection of publications from 2013 to 2017. We employ methods from critical discourse analysis to interrogate how big data was written into being and hyped into a topic of concern. In this aspirational discourse, tech evangelists and writers extrapolated from contexts in which large troves of data were already being harnessed to suggest that inescapable transformations were imminent. They sought to concretize abstract and unfathomable quantities while simultaneously overwhelming their readers with a sense of vastness that exceeds all contexts and outruns the most exuberant expectations. The term may have lost this luster, but big data technologies and practices are an integral part of today’s technological infrastructures.