Visualisation: its ups and downs (graphics-wise)

There are multiple, and vastly different, contexts in which visualisation and transparent data operate; and most of the time, we don’t really pay second attention to it. However, it is a fundamental role in how the shape publics and publishing data. For example, something as simple as the dashed line or ellipses can have incredibly varying roles to play in our understanding of a subject, as Timo illustrates. He writes a very interesting and visually engaging article on how the basic dotted line can represent movement, hidden geometry, paths, links, expectation (deep, I know), borders, graphs, and a whole lot more. Tell me you’ve thought that analytically about a dotted line and I’ll give you 5 bucks.

This is just one example of how visualisation is a much more complex and convoluted process of operation than than one imagines prima facie. Looking specifically at visual data collection, it is evident that visualisation plays the central part in how data is interpreted in the viewer’s mind. For example, I have an app on my phone that tells me how much sleep I get every night. Here is a comparison of two of different graphs the app provides:


Initially looking at the first graph, all columns are blue, and there doesn’t seem to be too much difference in the amount of sleep I get each day. It takes a close analysis to notice that I’m only getting between 6-7 hours sleep ever day, and that Mondays and Thursdays are the worst contenders. The second graph on the other hand, uses colour (more symbolically green and red) to show quite obviously that drinking tea and energy drinks are having a negative effect on my sleep (and somehow being sick has a positive effect (?)).

Taking somewhat more professional data from, a site devoted to such visual graphs, we can see how shapes, geometry and colour are used to display information that would otherwise be very difficult to interpret. See for example an analysis of the characteristics of selfie-taking.

Taking two slightly more 3D versions of this: VJing and the iPhone experience, it is evident that such visualisation can actually shape your reality. The interaction with your iPhone connects you visually through apps and graphics onto a totally different virtual world. Similarly, VJing significantly alters and improves your experience at events such as nightclubs, music festivals and concerts. Take a look at these two videos:

Thus visual texts not only help to represent such data, but also to organise forms of content/expression in language and make visible the invisible (“transparent data”). I’ll end the post with this article, which I can definitely say had an impact on how I decide what to eat and how often:


Arnell, Timo (2006) ‘the dashed line in use’, <>

Infographics <>

How does 200 calories look like <>


Augmented reality: projection mapping

iPhone user experience


Attention and “the commons”

This post focuses on collectively produced archives – “commons”, as well as the emergence of the attention economy and the idea that the organisation of attention is a significant factor on how we organise what we have in commons.

The “commons”

A commons arises where a society manages a resource in a communal manner, with a focus on equal access and sustainability (David Bollier). In a contemporary publishing context, it is essentially collective collaboration. Walljasper suggests that our society is progressing towards a commons-based one – “the health of the planet should take precedence over the profits of a few”, however Monbiot writes “we’re in danger of losing this global commons as it comes under assault from an army of trolls and flacks, many of them covertly organised or trained.”

I think both are true. Of course there will always be an unbalance of power – a true common-based society is never going to be achieved. Money is power, power is influence, influence is inequality. But I think Walljasper has a point in that the economy of commons is being better incorporated in society by the way in which we are able to engage in its 3 elements (Good and Bauwens): 

  1. Distributed communities of passionate individuals working together spontaneously on
  2. collaborative platform and Internet technologies and by
  3. the foundations, for-benefit institutions that make their know-how available for free.

So, how does attention play a part in this? Production is based on what you WANT to see. The chain is as follows:

Archive –> Economy (of commons) –> attention/distraction

What this means is that how we archive, or are archived is determined by economies, which are in turn dissected into categories such as power, knowledge, money, etc., as well as my focus – attention.

Economy of attention/distraction

At first, this seemed to me like an odd way to classify an economy. However, upon further analysis I realised that it is actually one of the most fundamental archival systems in society. The success of every facet of the economy from businesses to advertisements to any form of publishing relies on how many eyes see it… A Wired article by Michael Goldhaber argues quite convincingly that an information economy as we know it is actually an attention economy. He states: 

As the Net becomes an increasingly strong presence in the overall economy, the flow of attention will not only anticipate the flow of money, but eventually replace it altogether.

That to me is a strong point. With the craziness of technology advances that I’ve described in previous posts, information is far from scarce. But attention – that is something immeasurable, subjective, unreliable and is now the fundamental “basis for economy”. So: > information = < attention. I’m not going to lie – having to read 50 pages before writing this post meant that my attention wavered (to say the least) a lot of the time. I read without reading. I looked without processing. I didn’t pay attention. However isn’t that what publishers work so hard trying to avoid? The aim now is not to sell – it’s to draw in, and to hold. Sorry to say that can’t always be the case! James Temple summarises this point well by commenting:

[We] find it harder to get through a book, movie, conversation or even article (where you going, reader?) without feeling the tug of technology.

(Literally my life in a sentence – looks like I need to improve my infotention). HOWEVER I do fully acknowledge the argument (nicely put forward by Boyd) that we are not as a society losing our ability to focus, we are just merely reshaping ourselves and how we connect and develop as a complex society. Nothing is being lost here. 


If you’ve gotten to the end of this blog, I applaud (and thank you) for your retention of attention. 


Boyd, Stowe (2010) ‘The False Question of Attention Economics’, Stowe Boyd, <>

Erard, Michael (2009) ‘A short manifesto on the future of attention’, Observatory <>

Michael H. Goldhaber (1997) ‘Attention Shoppers!’, Wired, <>

Monbiot, George (2010) ‘Reclaim the Cyber-Commons’,, <>

Rheingold, Howard (2009) ‘Mindful Infotention: Dashboards, Radars, Filters’, SFGate<>

Robin Good and Michel Bauwens (2010) ‘From Open Business Models to an Economy of the Commons’, Robin Good, <>

Temple, James (2011) ‘All those tweets, apps, updates may drain brain’ San Fransciso Chronicle, April 17, <>

Walljasper, Jay (2010) ‘The Commons Moment is Now’,,  <>