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


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