YOU ARE THE NETWORK 2014
For many people, the notion of origin suggests a narrative of immigrating to one place from another, having daily roots in one country and familial, cultural or historical roots in another. However, since the proliferation of public access to DNA testing, narratives of origin have become more nuanced portraits of who we are and where we have come from, giving diversity visibility, as it is embodied within each of us.
Along those same lines, our daily use of the web and wireless connections contains geo-spatial diversity that is invisible to most of us, most of the time; hidden dimensions of multi-variant pathways and relationships to elsewhere. For many these pathways of global connections and interconnections are invisible, but, what if that could change? What could this information reveal about the complex relationships we have both to and within these emerging global systems? If tracked as a more common visible byproduct of each connection, what information would it reveal about the system and sites that sustain and enable it? Could it contribute to an emerging global perspective based not on physical properties of space or location, but rather on revised, complicated relationships to local and global?
These considerations have led me back to data visualization and projects that have represented information in ways that powerfully alter our relationships to it.
Work by Stamen Design, for example, range from formal, elegant fully realized projects to experimentations. While I’m often blown away by the first, I’m particularly partial to many of the latter.
For example, “Visualizing a day of financial transactions on NASDAQ by Zach Watson and Eric Rodenbeck abstracts data of financial transactions and transformed it into a dynamic and animated flows, accompanied by conjunctures on possible reasons for sudden bursts or diminished activity. It’s a lively conversion of dry statistics into a compelling, and beautifully fluid, organic flow that, in my mind, more accurately conveys the energy itself taking place there.
Another group, Visualizing.org, sponsors open calls for data visualization challenges providing data sets for participants to use and design for. Among the many examples of visualization projects on their site responding to open challenges was their 2010 call for work to use data from the upcoming World Economic Form to clarify connections between and among council committees and global agendas .
SVA IxD and Co’s submission entitled, Catalyzing the Global Dialogue, produced a striking interactive pie diagram visually presenting data by committee, topic, subtopics, countries and the interconnections among each. A click on any of the variables revealed relationships among various council committees and agenda topics by country and organization type (such as Academia, Business, Government), and disclosed the more subtle ways in which selected topics and agendas were clearly related to others. SVA IxD and Co described the need for such visual representations of data as arising from the growing need for “a systematic view” in order to foster “true and effective dialogue.”
Carnivore, a work from 2002 by the Radical Software Group in collaboration with Golan Levin, used two databases to convey the emotional content of local web traffic. JJ, the face of the data, is “an autonomous software agent who displays facial expressions appropriate to the emotional content of the words that are presented to him” <http://r-s-g.org/carnivore/>. The words surveyed came from email, web surfing, etc. The project utilized two databases to identify words of emotion and assign related graphics of facial displays of emotion (“anger, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness and pleasure”). For a detailed description of the project, read the interview between Golan Levin with Alex Galloway, one of the project’s developers at: JJ (Empathic Network Visualization).
The open source program, Carnivore, is still available for download.
The relevance of these in relation to my own work can be summarized as first, more accurately reflecting the energy and life source of the data. Second, the way in which visualizations allow for more systematic views of complex and more subtle relationships. And third, the capacity of data visualizations to convey content in more human, and empathic terms.