Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Me make info look pretty one day

In discussion with Thunk this morning, around Feltron's involvement in new daily data project Daytum, he asked the question:

"i can't help but wonder whether the use of charts to explain everything is getting a bit... silly."


Which in turn prompted my question:

"The visualisation of data is a new attempt to force objectivity on aesthetics. Discuss."


Is it all that new? Probably not. But the growth of this particular meme of visual culture is easily trackable, certainly since the rise of the web and design thinking and practitioners who, in training and temperament, are almost engineers first and artists second.

And while much of what is being created is certainly beautiful and I accept the argument and need for people to make every more complex sets of data comprehensible, there is also a counter argument that suggests that this meme:

a) is an attempt to try and make more rational something that is fundamentally not rational;
b) attempts to extrapolate relatively unproven ideas about the nature of symmetry vis a vis beauty and attempt to apply these ideas to a more overarching framework;
c) limits our discussion of what we believe to be aesthetically appealing, by hinting that beauty *must* have a degree of explainable predictability about it; and
d) posits the idea that *creation* as a process can fundamentally be tamed, labeled and treated in the manner of objective scientific discovery.

If we take this further, one might suggest that it is a canary in the mine in this sense: we are allowing science and numbers and 'data' and quantitative measures and ROI and league tables and 'value-adds' of all sorts to dominate our discussion of what matters in our society. And this is dangerous. Because while these tools, in their right place, can be useful, they can't explain everything. They can't provide objectivity, and the 'right' answer all the time.

We need a 'Freakonomics' for qualitative insight.

PS: It need not be serious.

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