Data, Data Everywhere, Not a Lot in Sync

Reconciling Visual Meaning With Data

fractals assemblage visual meaning data sustainability


November 8, 2019


Up to 100 billion devices will be seeking to visually map out our existence over the internet by 2020 (UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser 2014). Just as the urban is a forcefield "of spatial transformations... that takes many different morphological forms” (Brenner 2014), this paper explores another underlying forcefield: our visual relationship with data. The most important piece of data, the individual, exists in the city as both prey and predator; having evolved from a "passive aesthetic view of the city” (Appleyard 1979, 144); transformed through shared territory (Evans and Jones 2008); and forged into impressively intricate sets of power relations through collective intentionality (Searle 2011). Through the presentation of self (Goffman, 1969, cited in Appleyard 1979, 146) we inhabit another home: the digital; in which we are simultaneously co-existent and removed by synchronisation of data. Traditionally, the software authoring the physical production of ‘space/hardware' has been value driven (Raban, 1974, 128, cited in Appleyard 1979, 146). In a parallel universe, algorithms drive the data. For Ellis (2012) it is in the software, that meaning resides. What then is the allure of data to the individual? And what is the allure of the individual to data? It lies arguably in the perception of power and control through meaning (Appleyard, Searle et al.). We seek in the new reality to "discover where the real power lies” (Appleyard 1979, 146). Curiously, the power of data appears to increase the irrelevancy of ownership, between "ours” and "theirs” (Appleyard 1979, 152). This paper analyses past, present, and future states of data production. The data we get from data; data produced from objects; and objects produced from data. In closing, a speculative working hypothesis is presented of visual data production, which hopefully encourages further research reconciling data with meaning in the context of visual sustainability.