Big data is not just useful for the enormous data we are providing every day to the Internet, it is also usable—and used – for analysis through time. Thus having millions of old books in digitized form allows us to undertake forms of cultural analysis that would have been impossible before. In a recent (2014) book called “Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture”, the authors (Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel) show how that cultural lens can be focused. We can for example see the penetration of new technologies by the frequency of times a particular technology is mentioned in the texts that are now digitized and therefore measurable. We can then graph that showing the frequency on the vertical and time (say a period of 200 years) on the horizontal, and then graph the rise and subsequent decline of “trains” “telegraph”, “telephone”, “automobile” and you can also note the appearance and rise of the Internet: (just a vertical line at the end of the horizontal axis) .
Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina(BA)