Each Tuesday, Eurry Kim, a student in our class, picks one example of data visualization to share with us. Eurry writes:
I was watching Amanda Cox’s EYEO talk on YouTube a couple of weeks ago and she said something that really stuck with me —
There’s this idea that some detail you want to leave out. Some things should be abstract. Some things aren’t important…. when we look at data viz, how much detail do we want? Or how many background singers? … They’re just there to provide some context, make you sound good, but they don’t want to stand in front.
Part of that throwing away [of data] is sort of what it means to be a grown-up. I can’t be an astronaut, and a president, and a mom all at the same time. You’ve got to shut some doors and figure out what it is you’re trying to do.
It was the concept of the “throwing away of data” that piqued my interest. When it comes to visualization, I think this concept is super important — just because you have the data doesn’t mean you should visualize it. Speaking of trash, three years ago, MIT conducted a study of the movement of trash out of Seattle and NYC using RFID tags (http://senseable.mit.edu/trashtrack/index.php). The study produced several maps of single items of trash and visualized them on maps. The grayscale maps are stark and don’t show much detail, but they leave the neon track of the trashed items brightly en route to their dump destinations. On these maps, Census tracts are not necessary. Population density is not the story here. Street names don’t matter. It’s the fact that you “threw away” your coffee cup this morning and that “away” is Kearny, NJ.
Map of a disposed plastic container of liquid soap: