Big Data Bang at Somerset house

Data brilliantly presented can crystalise a complex issue and to make us think. Fans of David McCandless (information is beautiful) will find plenty of examples in this show-distillations of the world’s data, information and knowledge into beautiful, interesting and, above all, useful visualizations, infographics and diagrams. I expected to see this at the show and it certainly delivered.

But what surprised me ?

  1. Pre-digital data still packs a punch

The most powerful example in the whole show was for me not a whizzy new digital data visualisation. It was over 200 years. It was brutally simple, static and in black and white. It was a visual showing how a slave ship was packed with men and women like sardines.IMG_6443

In advertising we know that emotion is a powerful persuader. This image, though, is bald fact – yet  it is more moving that the very best of the John Lewis ads because it does not try to tug at my heartstrings or tell me what to feel with stirring music. In fact it does the opposite: it invites me to use my own empathy and imagination to conjure up what the awful scene below deck in a slave ship would have looked and smelt like. I have to think for myself, which makes it a more powerful piece of communication by being implicit, than visually explicit storytelling

2) The phrase “cloud computing”  is misleading

Cloud computing conjures up an image of something fluffy, amorphous and insubstantial. In fact it is anything but. Every time you post on Facebook you produce yet more digital landfill. Your pokes and likes end up in a data centre like this one in Alaska

IMG_6397.jpg

A fine example of how a label can change meaning- a bit like called second hand clothing ” vintage”

3) Controlling you own data 

Edward Snowden gets a big shout out at the show for exposing how corporations and governments control and access our personal data. But you knew that already- what to do about it? There is an intriguing little prototype demo at the show of how citizens could control and licence their own data and give selective access to some and block others. Pertinent in view of rise of ad-blocking.

But where are the businesses?

This show which runs till end feb is worth going to – but it’s earnest and arty. For example there is not space commercial organisations like Sky Sports and The Met Office- both of whom have been brilliantly creative in turning data into entertainment. Cricket and those endlessly fascination  weather fronts have been transformed into things of beauty

 

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