Jer Thorp: Numbers That Paint the Picture | Nat Geo Live

National Geographic
4 Nov 201314:53
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TLDRThe speaker discusses the pervasive nature of data in our lives, comparing our relationship with data to the complex system of air travel. They explore the concept of data triage and visualization, emphasizing the importance of understanding and ethically engaging with data. Through examples like Twitter-mapped world travel and social network analysis, they illustrate how data can be both simplified and revelatory, ultimately arguing for a multidisciplinary approach to data that includes artists and other creative voices.

  • πŸ“° The speaker begins by noting the prevalence of the word 'data' in recent New York Times articles, highlighting the ongoing data conversation in society.
  • ✈️ A metaphor of air travel is used to describe the complex and often incomprehensible nature of data systems and our experiences within them.
  • πŸ’­ The concept of 'data triage' is introduced, emphasizing the need to sort through and make sense of the overwhelming influx of information.
  • πŸ“Š The historical roots of data visualization are discussed, with examples from Florence Nightingale and John Snow illustrating its power to reveal insights.
  • πŸ” Two reasons for data visualization are presented: to simplify complex information and to uncover previously unseen patterns or relationships.
  • 🌐 The speaker shares personal projects that leverage social media data to create unique visualizations of global travel and daily routines.
  • πŸ› οΈ The importance of building exploratory tools for understanding and interacting with complex data sets is emphasized.
  • 🌐 The architecture of conversation is visualized through the analysis of social media sharing patterns, revealing different structures for different types of content.
  • 🎨 The process of visualization is described as not just a noun but a verb, involving an active exploration to generate new questions and insights.
  • 🌟 The 'UA' strategy for data visualization is introduced, aiming to balance the intriguing 'U' (ooh) factor with the informative 'A' (ah) learning moment.
  • πŸ™οΈ The potential of data art and public installations is discussed, with examples of how data can be experienced collectively in public spaces.
  • 🌍 The speaker argues against the metaphor of 'data as the new oil,' advocating for a deeper understanding of data's humanity and the ethical considerations it entails.
Q & A
  • How many articles mentioning the word 'data' were published in the New York Times in the last 24 hours according to the speaker?

    -The speaker mentions that there were 42 articles published in the New York Times in the last 24 hours that mentioned the word 'data'.

  • What metaphor does the speaker use to describe the lived experience of data?

    -The speaker uses the metaphor of the complex system of air travel to describe the lived experience of data, highlighting the vastness and intricacy of both systems.

  • What does the speaker suggest is the relationship between the data experience and the experience of being on an airplane?

    -The speaker suggests that both experiences involve being part of a complex system that one can barely understand, and both involve a sense of loss of control.

  • What is the significance of the book 'Infinite Jest' by David Foster Wallace in the context of the speaker's talk?

    -The book 'Infinite Jest' is significant because it is filled with footnotes and the author intended it to mimic the information flood and data triage that he believed would be a bigger part of our lives in the future, which the speaker relates to the current data conversation.

  • What are the two reasons the speaker gives for why we visualize data?

    -The two reasons for visualizing data are to reduce complexity and make things simpler, and to reveal things, showing us things we have never seen before.

  • What was the purpose of the 'Just Landed' project the speaker worked on?

    -The 'Just Landed' project aimed to collect tweets from people who had just landed in various locations and use that data to create a visual representation of world travel based on social media updates.

  • What tool did the speaker and Mark Hansen build at the New York Times?

    -The speaker and Mark Hansen built a tool called Cascade, which was designed to analyze how content produced by the New York Times was being shared through social networks.

  • How does the speaker describe the different structures of Cascades for different types of stories?

    -The speaker describes the structures of Cascades as being unique to the type of story, with some like Nicholas Kristoff's tending to be more spread out like shrubbery, and current event stories being more tall and quick to spread like Christmas trees.

  • What is the speaker's two-word strategy for data visualization?

    -The speaker's two-word strategy for data visualization is 'UA', which stands for 'ooh and ah', emphasizing the importance of not only attracting attention (the 'ooh') but also providing a moment of learning or insight (the 'ah').

  • What is the main goal of the Office for Creative Research, the company the speaker started?

    -The main goal of the Office for Creative Research is to explore new engagements with data and find innovative ways to bring data to the public in interesting and meaningful ways.

  • How does the speaker feel about the common metaphor of 'data is the new oil'?

    -The speaker disagrees with the metaphor of 'data is the new oil', arguing that data is deeply human and should not be compared to oil, which has led to significant environmental and social problems.

🌐 The Data Conversation and Lived Experience

The speaker begins by highlighting the prevalence of the word 'data' in recent New York Times articles, emphasizing the ongoing data conversation. They introduce the metaphor of air travel to describe the complex, yet often invisible, systems that govern our lives, drawing parallels to the data experience. The speaker expresses a desire to explore the lived experience of data and the sense of control we lose when engaging with such systems. They reference David Foster Wallace's use of footnotes to mimic the information flood, predating the current data triage, and discuss the importance of data visualization as a tool for both simplification and revelation.

🌟 Exploring Data Through Visualization

The speaker delves into the concept of data visualization, tracing its history back to the 19th and early 20th centuries with examples like Florence Nightingale's and John Snow's graphics. They argue that visualization serves two purposes: simplifying complex information and revealing new insights. The speaker shares their own work, including a project that visualizes global travel patterns from Twitter data and another that maps the structure of Twitter conversations. They emphasize the importance of the 'Aha!' moment in data visualization, where viewers not only find something intriguing (the 'U') but also gain a deeper understanding (the 'Aha!').

🌍 Public Engagement with Data

The speaker discusses the need to bring data into public spaces and shared experiences, moving beyond digital screens. They describe a project at the University of Texas that displays news-related entities in a large-scale, public installation, which has led to community engagement with the news. The speaker challenges the notion that data is the 'new oil,' arguing that data is deeply human and should be shared for the betterment of society. They advocate for a multidisciplinary approach to data, including input from artists and other creative fields, to drive meaningful change and ethical considerations in our relationship with data.

Data refers to pieces of information or facts that are collected and analyzed to gain insights or knowledge. In the context of the video, data is central to the discussion of its impact on our lives and how it is increasingly becoming a part of our daily experiences, akin to the complex system of air travel.
πŸ’‘Lived Experience
Lived experience refers to the personal, subjective experiences of individuals as they interact with and are affected by various aspects of their environment, such as technology or societal structures. In the video, the speaker uses the metaphor of air travel to illustrate the complex lived experience of data, highlighting the feeling of being part of a larger, often incomprehensible system.
πŸ’‘Data Visualization
Data visualization is the process of representing data and information graphically, making it easier to understand and analyze. It is a key concept in the video, where the speaker explores how visualization can both simplify complex data and reveal new insights that were not previously apparent.
Triage is the process of determining the priority of patients or issues based on the severity of their condition or the urgency of the situation. In the context of the video, 'data triage' refers to the sorting and prioritization of information in order to manage and understand the overwhelming amount of data we encounter.
In the video, a 'Cascade' refers to a tool or a visualization that tracks and displays how content is shared through social networks. It metaphorically represents the flow and spread of information, much like a cascade of water falling down.
πŸ’‘Conversation Architectures
Conversation Architectures, as discussed in the video, refers to the visual representation of the structure and flow of discussions or conversations, particularly in the context of social media sharing. It provides insight into how information is disseminated and the dynamics of public discourse.
πŸ’‘Question Farming
Question farming is a concept introduced by the speaker to describe their approach to data visualization as a means of generating more questions rather than just providing answers. It emphasizes the exploratory and inquisitive nature of working with data to uncover new insights and understandings.
πŸ’‘Ooh and Ah
The 'Ooh and Ah' strategy mentioned in the video refers to the dual goals of eliciting an initial reaction (Ooh) of surprise or interest from viewers of data visualizations, followed by a deeper, meaningful understanding or learning moment (Ah). It underscores the importance of not just catching the viewer's attention but also providing value through insight.
πŸ’‘Public Space
Public space, in the context of the video, refers to physical, communal areas where people can gather and interact. The speaker discusses the importance of bringing data experiences into public spaces to allow for collective engagement and understanding, moving beyond the individual screen-based interaction with data.
πŸ’‘Data Ethics
Data ethics involves the moral and legal considerations surrounding the collection, use, and sharing of data. It addresses issues such as privacy, consent, and the potential impact of data on individuals and society. In the video, the speaker raises concerns about the ethical implications of data usage and the need for a social consensus on data sharing.
πŸ’‘Data Art
Data Art is a form of artistic expression that utilizes data as its primary medium. It involves the creative interpretation and visualization of data to communicate stories, patterns, or insights in a visually engaging and thought-provoking manner. The speaker advocates for the integration of data art in conversations about data to foster a more holistic understanding and appreciation of its impact on human lives.

The speaker's curiosity about the frequency of the word 'data' in the New York Times, finding 42 articles in the last 24 hours and nearly 2,000 this year.

The metaphor of air travel to describe the complexity and lived experience of data, emphasizing the staggering number of people in the air and the sense of being part of a complicated system.

The concept of data triage, introduced by the American novelist David Foster Wallace, to mimic the information flood expected in the future.

The historical context of data visualization, dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, with examples like Florence Nightingale's graphic on soldier casualties.

The dual purpose of data visualization: to simplify complex information and to reveal new insights that were previously unseen.

The project 'Just Landed', which aggregates tweets about people landing in various locations to visualize global travel patterns.

The 'Good Morning' project, mapping the times people wake up and say 'good morning' on Twitter, showing different patterns across the world.

The speaker's two-and-a-half-year residency at the New York Times, working with statistician Mark Hansen to build a tool called Cascade for analyzing content sharing through social networks.

The discovery of different conversation structures in Cascade for different types of stories, like the 'shrubbery' structure for Nicholas Kristoff's stories and the 'Christmas tree' structure for current event stories.

The importance of the process of visualization, emphasizing it as an active exploration rather than just a static representation.

The Kepler project paper and the speaker's personal visualization of the data, offering a new perspective on the discovered planets and their characteristics.

The two-word strategy 'UA' (Ooh and Ah) for data visualization, aiming to first attract attention and then provide a meaningful learning moment.

The gestural interface developed for the Kepler project visualization, created in collaboration with a team in Los Angeles and the designer behind Minority Report.

The establishment of the Office for Creative Research, a multi-disciplinary group focused on new engagements with data and public presentations.

The project 'The Way It Is', a permanent installation at the University of Texas that visualizes news feeds from Austin, offering a collective public experience of data.

The exploration of data ethics and the impact on human lives, questioning the metaphor of 'data is the new oil' and advocating for a more thoughtful approach to data usage.

The call for a multidisciplinary dialogue involving not only scientists and industry professionals but also poets, actors, and artists to drive change and conversation in the field of data.

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