The pieces and topics at Big Bang Data range far and wide, but one of the intriguing things we found was how the screen-based (at least the small screen) projects were much less engaging than the tangible ones. The posters, prints and artifacts were a lot more compelling. Getting a chance to see the Nightingale Rose (the first polar area diagram) and Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi’s wonderful experiments in personal data vernacular with the Dear Data project was a real treat. There were a few large screen installations, but unfortunately none seemed to be interactive. They focused more on data as a medium for visual expression than on subject or meaning. It wasn’t that the screen-based projects were less interesting, it was the context in which there were presented. The Selfiecity project by Lev Manovich and Moritz Stefaner is a fascinating project, but when reduced to a small monitor in a large space, access proved difficult when part of a larger group in an exhibition setting. The exhibition context meant that all screen-based interactive projects needed large scale touch screens to get me engaged. Let me play and more importantly let me play with others. The video-based storytelling worked well as to sit and watch a screen is an established activity in a gallery space. This passive consumption of a story or data narrative via a visualization plays particular well to infographics like those of David McCandless, where his agenda or idea is core and there’s no opportunity to challenge it.
Seeing data being used in these diverse and inspiring ways makes me all the more convinced that we must give people the opportunity and means to question and explore the data we serve up to them. Presenting data as unquestionable artifacts set in stone (or paper, or PDF, or PowerPoint) that are intended to prove beyond a doubt what you are saying is correct relies on acceptance and trust from those consuming it. But I’m not a fan of blind obedience, as it’s open to bias and deceit. If as Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D’Ignazio suggest “data literacy includes the ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data”, then we have to do more to help others engage in the debate. That means opening our closed arguments and enabling exploration and the means to question what we say the data means.
Big Bang Data was well worth the visit as underlying many of the pieces was a passion for the democratizing of data. I’d just liked to have seen a little more of that for the audience.