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Data Visualization

  • If you live in a world made of software applications running on digital gadgets, don't forget that you are living inside other people's designs, and those people who designed your world are engineers. For better and for worse they are not artists, philosophers, neuroscientists or physicists.
  • One of the most challenging problems in the age of information overflow is how to visualize data. Over the centuries the visualization of information has been often achieved more effectively by artists than scientists: paintings, sculptures and even buildings have been used to deliver narratives.
  • For example, Borobudur in Java is one colossal exercise in "data visualization": as one circles around and ascends its giant mandala, one assimilates the Buddhist scriptures. It was artists, not engineers, who devised the way to "visualize" the Buddhist scriptures in Borobudur's architecture and reliefs.
  • The amount of data that needs to be visualized in the 21st century is certainly a lot greater than the amount of data that was available in the past. The problem is that the artist has been left behind. Therefore there is no artist who can do to modern data what Borobudur did to the Buddhist scriptures.
  • Letting the engineers visualize the data, however, is like having a historian tell the story of Buddha: it would be a technically accurate rendition of the "data", but it would completely miss the message that is instead so perfectly embodied in Borobudur.