Culture and Data

For this post I will use the following visualisation to discuss data friction and infrastructural globalism:

Background/ability for manipulation/variation

This is a human immunodeficiency virus model which utilises the help of more than 100 leading science journals, X-rays, and graphics nerds to create a 3D visualisation of a HIV particle. It aggregates information into one visual representation that transforms according to the medium in which it is redistributed. For example, here there are a set of high definition photos of the 3D model, and here is an interactive 360 degree version. Further, the creators of the model have stated that it can also be used on ‘posters, animations and interactive applications for web and mobile platforms’.

Impacts/relation to infrastructural globalism

There are a number of impacts that this visualisation will produce. Although creator Ivan Konstantinov plans to use it in schools and to popularise science research for the moment, it will inevitably affect future medical research into understanding the HIV virus, as the article notes. This is essentially making local data global and widely available.

Edwards defines infrastructural globalism, relating to meteorological terms, as ‘how the building of technical systems for gathering global data helps to create global institutions and ways of thinking globally’. In regards to the creation of a HIV particle visualisation, the invention of new software and algorithms developed by the creators, as well as featuring on the ‘cover of Nature Medicine in September 2010, as part of a special issue prepared by the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise’, has allowed for innovative global ways of thinking about what we might consider old or known information.

Involvement of data friction 

As Edwards states with his focus on climate change, tracing the history of efforts to gather weather and climate records for the whole planet is called making global data, whereas the effort that is involved is data friction. Similarly, here the creators of this visualisation went to to the effort of obtaining information from hundreds of sources to create on single model of a HIV particle. However, as Edwards further notes, “historians continually discover previously unknown documents, letters, drawings, photos, artefacts, and other kinds of evidence that reveal new aspects even of history’s best-known episodes”. As the archive of information surrounding the virus is ever-expanding, there will always be new information that becomes available, shaped by our ‘changing perspectives of the past’, that impacts how we recreate data. This demonstrates the significant impact data friction has on our perceptions and views on reality.


Edwards, Paul N. (2010) ‘Introduction’ in A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: xiii-xvii


Distribution and aggregation: its relevance in our world today

It is abundantly clear that the introduction of new media and a digital culture has broken down barriers to many forms of distribution and aggregation. Not only does this apply to stand alone devices such as computers and mobiles as Andrew notes, but also includes how our distribution and aggregation within the social and the public sphere.

Hubert Guillaud, writing a reflection of Danah Boyd’s “Flow of Information through New Media Speech“, discusses how historically forms of distribution were much simpler but also much more highly regulated, with the power lying in “those who control the channels of distribution”. However as we all know and he notes these structures are rapidly collapsing, with participants (actors) of the digital network now holding that power.

John Salvo notes that moving from an Information Age to a Systems Age involves “sensing, collecting, and manipulating data in near real-time with little to no human supervision… the separation between leaders and followers will cease to exist, as the internet democratizes the planet and good information becomes ubiquitous”.

However Boyd makes a good point here – she notes that just because WE now have the power to dictate what is distributed within the public sphere, that does not mean that attention is divided equally. In fact, as I’ve noted in previous blog posts, I’d take it one step further and say in a way attention is even harder to maintain now than maybe 50 years ago. This is because not only do users prefer fast bursts of information, but this explosion in the amount of “publishers” means that it is harder to get your voice heard. Obviously easier access to distribution and the destructuring of mediators makes getting it out there easier, but that’s not equivalent to being heard.

Another point which relates to this that Guillaud discusses through Boyd’s speech is that we choose content that stimulates us, not necessarily content that is informative. She notes the example of Facebook, saying it gives rise to parasocial relations: “on Facebook, you can turn your friends into celebrities, without actually gaining the benefits of social intimacy and bonding.” I think to an extent this is definitely true. For example, I have about 1,100 friends on Facebook, but if I had to count how many I interact with personally and physically regularly it would be about a tenth of that number. Regardless, how I publish and distribute data is affected by all of these 1,100 friends. I think this demonstrates Boyd’s point – that sense of connection that was there before has diminished to an extent. It becomes a way of representing one’s public image, rather than actually building a connective network. Boyd in her blog stated that during her presentation, having tweets projected on the big screen meant that she lost connection with her listeners, who became more invested in their communication with themselves.

Therefore, as Andrew notes, aggregation and distribution are forms of expression; ways of personalisation. YOU dictate your world by choosing what, with whom, and how you engage both digitally and physically. These forms of content/expression then turn into your experience, which you later archive. And this is the neverending circle of publishing!

Visualisation in practice

My last blog post discussed visualisation and its effects, and to complement this here is a visualisation created by Mary, Carrie, Pae and myself:


This is a screenshot of an interactive map highlighting the prevalence of melanoma in Australia compared to other continents. The impact of visualising this data is hopefully to create a persuasive approach in that viewers of the map will have a greater apprehension of the depth of the problem in Australia and be sure to protect themselves from overexposure in the future.