Datafication refers to the transformation of physical occurrences and (social) action into quantified data. It’s a process of turning previously un-datafied aspects of life, such as walking, talking, eating or sleeping into data that can be monitored, tracked and analysed. Most smartphones and sensors embedded in cars, gadgets, buildings, and, more recently, clothes collect data on our daily activities. As a social, cultural and scientific process, datafication is closely related to its chief product: ‘big data’. Big data refers not only to ‘data too big to imagine’ but, as geographer Kitchin suggests, to data that is simultaneously ‘high in velocity, diverse in variety, exhaustive in scope, fine-grained in resolution, and relational in nature’.
In the field of science, datafication is seen to have led to a change of paradigm, from the early 20th century theoretical science, based on modelling and generalisation, and the post-war computational science, based on the simulation of complex phenomena, to the 21st century exploratory science based chiefly on data-intensive statistics and data mining for the purpose of discovering new patterns and relations.