ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Transition to Big Data in India

Lives of Data: Essays on Computational Cultures from India edited by Sandeep Mertia and foreword by Ravi Sundaram, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2020; pp 160, price not indicated.

The first half of the last decade witnessed a rapid expansion of the footprint of social media and e-commerce across India. The piecemeal transition from “the mid-20th-century statistical regime of economic planning” to “big data aggregation and prediction” (p 12) and “colonial fingerprinting to contemporary biometric technologies” (p 14) picked up momentum when millions who until then did not have access to fixed line phones, let alone computers, leapfrogged into a smartphone ecosystem. This is the context in which the 2014 general election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised to set up “an institute of Big data and Analytics for studying the impact of big data across sectors for predictive science” (Hindu 2014). It added that “real-time” and “big” data will help tackle a variety of problems ranging from agricultural distress to intelligence gathering (Hindu 2014). Soon after assuming power, the BJP decided to introduce Aadhaar with a missionary zeal. In 2016, the government demonetised high denomination currency notes to promote the digitalisation and formalisation of the economy, among other things. Similar objectives drove the hurried introduction of the goods and services tax regime a year later.

It seemed that the “larger promise,” as Ravi Sundaram puts it, of the internet “to reformat the infrastructure of governance and energize capitalist expansion” in the country was going to be fulfilled at last (p 6). That promise remains unfulfilled even as the volume and diversity of data continue to grow relentlessly because of which managing information is increasingly integral to tackling challenges as diverse as epidemics and international wars. The academic literature has not kept pace with these developments in India though. Lives of Data: Essays on Computational Cultures from India, an outcome of a collaboration between ­researchers and practitioners, addresses this gap. It grapples with “data as both a category of infrastructure and as a philosophical provocation” and how “data generates and is generated by the relations amongst objects (digital and analog), people (collectives of users and non-users), and phenomena (social and mathematical)” (p 16).

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Updated On : 20th Nov, 2021
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