Selling Sickness 2013

big data and the numerical imagination

The Business of Technology (BIT) staff at the New York Times produced a special section  a few days ago focusing on a half-dozen areas of growth involving “Big Data.”

“The story is the same in one field after another, in science, politics, crime prevention, public health, sports and industries as varied as energy and advertising. All are being transformed by data-driven discovery and decision making” (from Steve Lohr’s lead article)

As a mental health clinician and sexologist, I (LT) have been somewhat obsessed with the escalating role of quantification and “objective” measurement in my field over the past few decades. The more questionnaires and scales are developed by Big Pharma to micromeasure sexual activity and satisfaction, the more people’s expectations rise but the more muddled the answers become. Yet, the “next new thing” is always going to solve the problems and usher in the great new era.

Can we generate more respectful and relaxing sexual communication through surveillance, microtargeting, and tracking, or will the people spending their waking hours inventing more ways to do the latter end up unable to see the value in the former?

My doctor told me this week that her clinic had totally shifted over to electronic medical records and that she hoped for positive new developments down the line. I praised her for making eye contact while she gave me this news and will wait to see how things work out.

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