Big Bang Data @ Somerset House

Last week I went to see Big Bang Data at Somerset House. Here is what the exhibition is all about, from the introduction to the exhibition:

Big Bang Data explores the issues surrounding the datafication of our world through the work of artists, designers, journalists and visionaries.

The exhibit is broken down into different sections, covering the "data explosion" the world has been undergoing, personal data & privacy, data for the common good, and data for art.

For years now, the advancements in technology and volume of data produced have been evolving together. Technology is constantly making it easier and cheaper to capture and store data, so the volume of data we produce is always increasing; that, in turn, drives the need for better and cheaper ways to capture and store data...

The year 2002 represented a turning point in data.
For the first time, we had more information stored in digital forms than analogue.

I won't ruin the whole thing four you, but I wanted to mention a few of my favourite pieces!
The exhibit featured the works a few of the presenters from the Visualized conference I attended in 2014:

  • selfiecity: a study of the selfie phenomenon, where 3000+ Instagram selfies were tagged through Amazon Mechanical Turks, visualised and analysed... You can go play with the data yourself on the beautiful selfiexploratory
  • Dear Data: every week for a year, information designers Georgia Lupi and Sefanie Posavec designed a datavis postcard on a pre-agreed topic and sent it to each other. The project was a big success online, and they are now turning it into a book

I've also really enjoyed:

- Black Shoals: a planetarium representing the (real-time) stock market trading - bGeigie Nano: a "Make Your Own" geiger counter, you can use to survey your area and upload the resulting data to Safecast's [radiation map](

I am more convinced than ever that a good datavis is the best way to get a point across: striking visuals are perfect to hook the viewers and get them to pay attention; after that, good design is the key to conveying your message!
But, to me, this is also where datavis falls short: it cannot be a final product in itself, only the beginning of something. It's is a great way to get someone interested in a topic; the start of a conversation. But to really comprehend a topic in-depth, it is crucial to understand the context and details of the data. And that is much, much harder to express in a visually pleasant way.
Consider this painfully dry example: in the Debtris video, how is the OPEC oil revenue calculated? Is it fair it to compare it against the OPEC's Climate Change fund? I'd be interested in seeing how much OPEC Net Profit represents!

Regardless, I really had a great time at the exhibition and I hope this little write-up makes you want to go and visit Big Bang Data. Its run has been extended to the 20th of March; you should check it out!

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