Christian Pentzold

Imagining “big data” brings up a palette of concerns about their technological intricacies, political significance, commercial value, and cultural impact. We look at this emerging arena of public sense-making and consider the spectrum of press illustrations that are employed to show what big data are and what their consequences could be. We collected all images from big data-related articles published in the online editions of The New York Times and The Washington Post. As the first examination of the visual dimension of big data news reports to date, our study suggests that big data are predominantly illustrated with reference to their areas of application and the people and materials involved in data analytics. As such, they provide concrete physical form to abstract data. Rather than conceiving of potential ramifications that are more or less likely to materialize, the dominant mode of illustration draws on existing, though often trite, visual evidence. The full article can be found here