Week 6 – Data

This weekend I went to the rally for action against climate change at Belmore Park, and knowing that on the other side of the city a protest against the carbon tax was taking place I wondered why people were so reluctant to address the issue of anthropogenic global warming. Is it the money? To me, $16 dollars a week seems like a small price to pay for the planet. So I drew another conclusion: many people do not understand, or choose to ignore, the gravity of the situation. For scientists, the data is indisputable, they receive the message clearly, but most do not. The data remains of mass of impenetrable numbers and figures.


Climate change is an excellent example of both the importance of data in our lives, and our fear of it, but Edward’s introductory chapter (2010) is also interesting in that much of what he says about climate change and it’s modelling is generally applicable to other infrastructures and data sets. He states that “conceiving weather and climate as a global phenomena helped promote an understanding of the world as a single physical system.” (Edward 2010, p. xix) This realization occurred through the use of data and data modeling systems. We feel the sense that everything is connected to everything these days, and are often overwhelmed by it, but through the use of data perhaps we could make sense of it.


Because there is evidence that people are willing to use data (Quilty-Harper 2010), especially in a personal context. We are fascinated by ourselves. I cannot count the number of times someone’s ‘most used word in status’ has come up on my Facebook news feed. Though my immediate thought is, ‘I don’t care’ I find myself thinking about data I do care about. To continue with the climate change theme, how much time does everyone spend on Facebook? How much electrical energy is required for this and how much fossil fuel is required for that? In other words, what is our Facebook usage costing the planet? And how do we make the data that doesn’t relate to us interesting?


Dr Rosling seems to have the right idea with his IKEA boxes (Brain Scan 2010). I feel like there should be a slogan about the three E’s: making data easy, engaging and ex-ccessible (yes, I cheated on the last one), and that’s what exactly he’s doing, turning “dusty figures into convincing illustrations.” (Brain Scan 2010). He says  “I produce a road map for the modern world…Where people want to drive is up to them.” (Brain Scan 2010) Maps are very visual tools and visualization does seem to be the key in achieving the three E’s, an idea expressed by Manovich and his theory of cultural analytics, “a new paradigm for the study, teaching, and public presentation of cultural artifacts, dynamics, and flows,” (Williford 2011) where the ability to see patterns is key. And it appears that we are slowly coming around to this view, of analysing the data in our lives to determine patterns in our world. Where the use of everyday data was thought to be strange (Wolf 2010), the use of data, and not only everyday data, is gathering momentum. IMB and Google have both jumped on the wagon (Evans 2011; Garber 2011) and data is shifting into the artistic realm (Mosher 2011).


The question is though, how can media devices help with this? Apps for representing archives on the go? A way of reading your email using pie graphs? It’s a difficult question, but what is visualization if not an extension of data’s mind? Numerical, statistical data is taken into the visual realm. Perhaps the haptic could be next, a way of integrating visualisations of historical, social data into the world around and accessing them at any moment.





Brain Scan (2010) ‘Making data dance’ The Economist <http://www.economist.com/node/17663585?story_id=17663585> [accessed 3 April 2011]


Edwards, Paul N. (2010) ‘Introduction’ in A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: xiii-xvii


Evans, Lisa (2011) ‘Many Eyes: what data do people want to visualise?’ The Guardian <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/mar/17/visualise-data-trends> [accessed 3 April 2011]


Garber, Megan (2011) ‘Dataviz, democratized: Google opens public data explorer’ Nieman Journalism Lab <http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/02/dataviz-democratized-google-opens-public-data-explorer/> [ accessed April 3 2011]


Mosher, Dave (2011) ‘Data as Art: Striking Science Maps’ Wired <http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/best-science-maps/?pid=1053> [accessed April 3 2011]


Quily-Harper, Conrad (2010) ’10 Ways Data is Changing How We Live’ The Telegraph <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/7963311/10-ways-data-is-changing-how-we-live.html> [accessed 3 April 2011]


Williford, James (2011) ‘Graphing Culture’ Humanities <http://www.neh.gov/news/humanities/2011-03/Graphing.html> [accessed 3 April 2011]


Wolf, Gary (2010) ‘The Data-Driven Life’ The New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02self-measurement-t.html?_r=2> [accessed 3 April 2011]


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