www.followthemoney.nu (video availabe)
Conference on 14.01.2010 at de Balie
Short summary by Juliana Brunello
First Welcome: Hans Maarten van den Brink welcomes us participants to the conference. He shortly explains that this is the 11th edition of the circuit of conferences done by Mediafonds, Sandberg Institute and for the first time with Erasmus University. The speaker points out, that the theme of today’s conference, which is actually more of a ritual due to its periodicity, is not data visualization, but about ruling the world.
Introduction: Annelys de Vet starts her introduction with a funny graphic representation of the efforts put into preparing this conference. She concludes that summing all of the costs involved in it, it is as if each one of the participants was paid 117,65€ to be here today.
She continues by asking some important questions: how do we deal with overload of information and numbers? Do we need data visualization to understand it? “If the database is the new narrative then what is the role of visualization?” (Lev Manovich)
She concludes her intro by asking the participants to continue researching about it after the conference; otherwise if there is no interest in doing so, one should leave the conference, as it does not pay the immense effort to put the conference together. Since no one left, she introduced the first speaker and the actual conference started.
Fist Speaker: Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens. Unfortunately for me it is in Dutch. Therefore I have nothing to report.
Second Speaker: Koert van Mensvoort. Money as a Medium
The speaker made a very entertaining and informative presentation, showing new speculative ideas on how the future system could look like. His presentation involved the themes money, media, data and reality. He stated that money is one of the oldest virtual realities in our culture. This also shows that the virtual has a deep penetration our society. “We are moving from the world of things to the world of information. Virtual economy is booming nowadays, the opposite is to say of the real one.” (Not his exact words, but sort of) As an example he shows one of the new millionaires due to second life.
“Virtual money is a pleonasm. Money has “always” been virtual.” In the beginning cattle had been used as trade object and it was not virtual. Tools were also used as currency. In China, these tools became smaller, just representing the object itself, and then they became round, becoming virtual. These were made of metal, which was too heavy to carry around, so that paper money was developed. Other places they were made of expansive metal. Later on the credit card found its place in our society: physical and virtual at the same time, “but just plastic”.
The speaker continued by showing the difference between implicit weather data (as seen from the window) vs. explicit data (as seen in numbers). Financial data is explicit, but how can it be implicit visualized? There are no natural phenomena in this case. An interesting case in Kenya showed how prepaid airtime became a de-facto monetary value in the country. In this case “the signifier becomes the signified”. Will then telecom providers become banks and v.v.? Who will make the money? Government or corporation?
Mensvoort stated then that database has become our reality. Our days were consisted of things, now of databases (“are we already living in the matrix?”). He also spoke of the concept of Noosphere: the sphere of human thought. It transforms other systems, like the biosphere. Is this therefore a natural phenomenon? Are the financial and virtual systems a kind of ecosystem? If one compares two ecologies: rainforest and financial system – one is stable and the other of rapid growth – one is self sustainable and the other feeds on biosphere – however, both are threatened. A proposed solution was to link the financial system to the environmental one. To deal with climate change we need system change. The proposed solution: Environmental value needs to be monetized. The eco currency (separate currency) should be created. One would earn to preserve and depending on the environmental urgency, the currency would fluctuate. However, there are many problems involving its implementation.
He finishes his presentation by expressing his hopes, that geosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and datasphere will live in harmony. I hope so too.
Third speaker: Christian Nold
The speaker introduced the idea of Bijlmer Euro, an experimental currency that should support the development of local identity. This way, data visualization can change the local. It is a very interesting project and I will no longer discuss the it here, but suggest a visit to the following website:
Forth speakers: Floris Douma
Fifth speaker: Richard Rogers. Mapping for people
Very interesting and entertaining, sometimes ironical, presentation about mapping. He started his presentation by explaining what the use of mapping is: it is to find out things that actually help who are looking for it. Activists, NGOs, IGOs, States, celebrities and the common men can find use in it.
Activists want for instance to know how big is the movement they are involved with. They collect URLs and map it in order to visualize the scope of the movement. However, cluster maps have its pros and cons, sometimes provoking a sense of concurrence, which was not the initial goal. NGOs can with the help of mapping find out important relationships. INGs can for instance visualize “who spoke during which issue?” and “which issues which delegate speaks or stay silent?”. States can recognize who their allies are per issue, by for instance mapping in clusters of terminological blocks. Celebrities can check how popular they are, what kind of issues they should be associated with and therefore which kind they should support: children, mine bombs or organ donation?
Rogers points out that maps can show and at the same time construct reality. They send out an invitation to enter a symbolic world. They prompt people to rethink their strategies, for instance to make one’s position higher in a hierarchy, as it has large impacts on how one thinks about himself.
For more information check www.govcom.org
Sixth speaker: Staffan Landin. Gapminder
Landin is a very enthusiastic speaker and a true believer in Gapminder. He explained that the data brought from the world is in a “strong” way transformed in statistical data. However, when statistical data should be brought back into the world producing knowledge, it is done in a “weak” way. This enforces the prevalence of pre-conceived ideas, which are actually wrong. Gapminder should make it easier for people to understand statistical data and therefore grasp the knowledge they transmit in a better way.
The graphics shown in the presentation were really nice ones, very entertaining. I do recommend a visit to their website. However, one must keep in mind that it is very ease, even with nice techniques of data visualization, to misinterpret data. One can for instance confuse cause with effect, of join two variables that actually have no connection to each other making it looks like it does.
Check it out at www.gapminder.org
Seventh speaker group: Yuri Engelhardt, Martijn de Waal and Raul Nino Zambrano. Data stories
The central question of this presentation is “how can one use database to tell stories?” One of the speakers explains, that all we do today is stored in databases. This opens up a range of opportunities to get data and tell stories with it. But how? Documentary and filmmakers have been doing that. A new genre has emerged, a new discipline. However, this is not completely new. Minard designed a graphic in 1869 that “told the story” of Napoleon’s march. Another example of the early development of storytelling with graphics is e.g. Land of promise; Rotha (1946), a city speaks (1947).
More presently, the film “an inconvenient truth” (Guggenheim, 2006) provided a kind of prototype to the “powerpoint” cinema. However the graphics don’t do all the work, rhetoric is also needed. (At this point the speakers show the part of the film of an animated data graphic with al gore explaining the development of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.)Other good examples of contemporary films of this genre are “The federal debt” I.O.U.S.A. (Creadon, 2008) and “The crisis of credits” (Jarvis, 2009)
Second genre: Geography data used to tell stories. The example the speakers have chosen is “Britain from Above” (BBC, 2008), which uses for instance GPS data from Londoner taxis and other satellites images to make a film.
Third genre: Database Cinema. The exemple used here is “What a life” (Canada), in which they use several devices, like quizzes, to create a story. One is invited to explore the areas of the website.
Forth genre: Interactive web graphics, with the characteristics of being interactive and online. E.g.: “they rule”, a database that shows the concentration of power. One can upload the maps they created by searching data. Further examples: the “baby name wizard”, “how Americans spend their day” and “we feel fine”
I strongly recommend a visit to the websites they cited for an educational look and good entertainment.
Eight speaker: Judith de Leeuw.
Ninth speaker: Ian Forrester. BBD Backstage
Missed big part of it…. Sorry…
Tenth speaker: Joris Maltha. Catalogtree
Catalogtree is involved in designing data visualization. At the moment they are doing data visualization mostly to American magazines. However, at the presentation he spoke of their approach to design. He emphasizes the meaning of self organization as design tool.
He showed some projects in which social data of people behaving in a certain way has been used. He presented one in which the theme was cultural norms vs. law enforcement, by using data of a research that showed diplomats parking their car incorrectly and the corruption indexes of the CIA. The conclusion of this research was that corrupted countries have more diplomats that park their car incorrectly. Biased? Maybe… (flocking diplomats nyc 1999-2002) Using this data they produced different designs in form of posters. You can check them at http://www.catalogtree.net/projects/diplomats
Another example of their work, which also involves social behavior, was a map that became useless because of its continuous use, and the habit of people touching it with the finger where they stood. This part of the map was so worn out, that one could not recognize it anymore.
Further example was “the blue marble”, not done by Catalogtree, but for NASA.. In this case, satellite data should be made understandable to a larger audience. Oceans were painted blue, forests green, etc. It looks like photography, but it is not.
In the end of the presentation there was a weird discussion about the design involving diplomats, if it was biased or not. Fact is, that there were only pictures of their cars, in different sized considering the amount of time they were parked incorrectly. There was no citation to countries or so. Someone pointed out one could still influence something, by changing the color of the poster, that it would make a difference if it were red of white. I don’t see the point… I believe that the speaker also didn’t, as he decided at a certain point to just leave the podium.
Eleventh speaker: Mieke Gerrizen. Infodecodata
In Dutsch, so I left home, as it was the last presentation of the day.
The conference was very informative and entertaining. I learned a lot just being there and came out with new ideas. I will definitely keep my attention on the subject. I do understand now how data visualization can “control the world” now. One can use it to prove a point, to influence, to convince and not to mention it: to lie. Very tricky thing…