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!

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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:

sleep

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 infosthetics.com, 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:

http://infosthetics.com/archives/2007/01/how_does_200_calories_look_like.html

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnell, Timo (2006) ‘the dashed line in use’, <http://www.nearfield.org/2006/09/the-dashed-line-in-use>

Infographics <http://infosthetics.com/>

How does 200 calories look like <http://infosthetics.com/archives/2007/01/how_does_200_calories_look_like.html>

VJing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VJing

Augmented reality: projection mapping http://vimeo.com/43385747

iPhone user experience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKl1X2u7puM