White Flight: Complexity, Optics, and Visualization as Evasion
Speaker: Ted Byfield, Parsons the New School for Design, New School University. Moderator: Nick Seaver. Abstract: Information design and data visualization are often justified with appeals to heroic formulations like "massive flows of data." Yet when stripped of their data, they reveal a comically simplistic set of representational forms. These forms are almost invariably level, balanced in proportions, and measured; as such, they tacitly suggest that, however confusing or catastrophic the data may be, at least the enclosing framework is stable, rational, and manageable. In this regard, visualization can be seen less as a bold step forward to engage an informatic future than as so many emblems of a nostalgic attempt to distance and fence in "complexity" by means of naively simplistic forms. From the chronological diagrams that inspired William Playfair through the rampant experimentation with visualization today, much evidence suggests that the drive to create images of data involves an effort to create imaginary spaces into which observers can flee from anxieties about their cultural and historical position.