Release | Big data reality check of social macro trends

Roth S., Clark C., Trofimov N., Mkrtchyan A., Heidingsfelder M., Appignanesi L., Pérez-Valls M., Berkel J., and Kaivo-oja J. (2017) Futures of a distributed memory. A global brain wave measurement (1800-2000)Technological Forecasting and Social Change,  Vol. 118 No. May, pp. 307-323.

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Background: Modern societies are usually defined as relatively unreligious, dominated by money and power rather than religious beliefs. But why are we so sure that secularisation and the dominance of politics and economy are in the DNA of modern societies? We turned these and similar assumptions into big data research questions and found that, despite all contradicting ideologies or habits of mind, the economy is of only moderate importance to modern societies. We used the Google Books corpus as well as the Google Ngram Viewer, an online graphing tool which charts annual counts of words or sentences as found in the largest available corpus of digitalized books, to analyse word frequency time-series plots of key concepts of functional differentiation in the English as well as in the Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Italian sub-corpora between 1800 and 2000. Our results therefore suggest that we think twice before we continue to label our societies as money-driven, economy-biased, or simply capitalist.

Read the short article in The Conversation or the research article published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change. The research article is also available for download here (5Mb).

Keywords: Big data; Google Ngram Viewer; global brain; culturomics; secularisation; capitalism; functional differentiation, social systems theory.

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