The Beauty of Data Visualization

“Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: The desert of the real itself.”

Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of the Simulcra”

I was really intrigued by both readings, “Rethinking The Power of Maps” and “Art and Cartography”.  It made me really think about mapping in a more abstract way but also force myself to consider the falsities being promoted via our general idea of maps (for example: the map of the world).  The above picture, by Bill Rankin, portrays ‘relativity’ in comparison of the overlapping of North America/ Central America with Europe/ Africa/ The Middle East.  For some reason, in my mind, I always pictured the United States to be larger than how it is represented here – but in fact, it appears to be minuscule in comparison to this part of the world.  Below is another depiction of ‘relativity’, by Kai Krause – various countries are overlapped onto Africa to depict its ‘real’ size in comparison to many of the world’s “super powers”. It makes me wonder who is ‘accurately’ depicting the map of the world – is there a general consensus amongst all?  Or, is the map I am familiar with, one that is generally shown to the American population as the ‘true’ map of the world?  And, what could be the point of inaccurately representing the size of continents/ countries on the world map?

In “Art and Cartography,” D’Ignazio states: “The ubiquity of the map as a means of locating one’s place in relationship to the rest of the world created a unique opportunity for artists to exploit cartography’s language, symbols, and strategies.”  I appreciate how artists have taken something standard, such as a map, in which most people accept to be the ‘truth’ and alter it to give it new meaning – in a semiotic sense.  It really twists with the idea of our sense of place… and makes me wonder what other sorts of ‘visualizations’ I accept without questioning.  The fact that something which appears to be so concrete can be manipulated into various abstract forms and still find a way to make sense is fascinating.  Even more fascinating is the fact that metaphorical or imaginary territories can also be ‘mapped’ – again, it plays with our conception of time and place… but also forces us to challenge our accepted idea of ‘truth’ – that which has been presented to us.

I included Jean Baudrillard’s quote in this blog response because I felt that it really ties into the reading and the idea of challenging our sense of place and space.  In “Art and Cartography, D’Ignazio says: “Not only were artists taking on the role of mapmaker, but they were also taking on the roles of the surveyor, the photogrammerrist, and the data collectors, albeit in iconoclastic, idiosyncratic ways.”  The artists were able to take a form of data, that laid in the hands of ‘specialists’ and use it in a way to give the power back to the people.  This manipulation puts the ‘truth’ back in the hands of willing and active participants.

In “Rethinking the Power of Maps,” Wood advocates for active participation by the public.  He says: “But just as there can be more to geographic information systems than lot lines, property values, and streets, “public” doesn’t have to mean calculated fractions of the entire population either, nor “participation” sitting through public hearings, playing with markers….”  Although Wood is promoting radical cartography, he is denouncing the fact that people are becoming less of participants and more of a representation or statistic for consensus on public matters.  It reminds me of the dilemma – although you are adding your signature to petition with the end result of putting a stop to some sort of injustice… are you actively participating yourself?  Are these new forms of media or alternative methods making us less active participants… since all we really have to do is have a computer to sign an electronic petition or access a geodatabase.

Below is a link to a TED talk by David McCandless, “The Beauty of Data Visualization.”  Although he is not speaking particularly about mapping, it is relevant to our readings because he addresses the idea of visualizing information in our world where information is never-ending and which we can easily get lost in.  Building a map of information helps put meaning and relationships amongst statistics, size of countries, etc,. in which patterns and connections would otherwise be scattered across multiple user boards.  He says: “By visualizing information, you can turn it into a landscape, in which you can explore with your eyes… an information map.”

Categories: Reflective Posts


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