God, Big Data Religion, and Studying Culture

DataGodReviewing  Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, Nick Romeo writes in The Daily Beast: “The authors were instrumental in creating the Google Ngram viewer, which allows researchers or anyone else so inclined to explore the changing frequencies of words across time. Likening their creation to a cultural telescope, they proceed to share some of their ostensibly dazzling findings… Many of the Ngram findings fall into one of two categories: things people didn’t know but also didn’t really need to know (Bill Clinton and lettuce), or things people already knew… Aiden and Michel’s enthusiasm seems best explained by an Ngram that plots the relative frequency of the words “God” and “data.” Data eclipsed God in 1973, and its continuing ascendance suggests a culture that treats it as a surrogate divinity.”

It turns out that if you take this Ngram to the year 2008 (instead of to 2000), you find out that God is making a serious comeback, mentioned more frequently than both “data” and “information”… Is this a reaction to Dataism?

An excerpt from the book was published in Newsweek, in which Aiden and Michel invoke the first maxim of Big Data Religion, modestly observing: “Given enough digital records and enough computing power, a new vantage point on human culture becomes possible, one that has the potential to make awe-inspiring contributions to how we understand the world and our place in it.”