Story kicking big data

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 | Data visualization, Events, General

A couple of days ago I attended an event called That Time a Story Kicked Big Bad Data’s Ass. The event was hosted by GameChangers in the pool (!) of gangster gardener Ron Finley . Lucky for us, there was no water in the pool!

Ron_Finley_pool

Mike Bonifer in Ron Finley’s pool

 

GameChangers is a consultancy company that use improvisation techniques and narrative design to help their clients improve their communication and develop brand strategies. Consequently, the event itself was filled with stories and improvisation, which was refreshing.

 

Infobesity – The Tyranni of Data

The topic of the night was the relationship between big data and stories. Even though it was made clear that we should embrace big data, the take home message was that we need stories to understand and communicate data, and that stories can achieve much that data can’t. The proliferation of big data and lack of stories results in ‘infobesity’.

Mike Bonifer pointed out that stories can create a vision for the future, while data can only show us a snapshot of the past. Stories are experienced in the present, and speak to our unconsciousness. Relating this to my own project, this inspires me to look for ways of integrating data visualization and stories on multiple levels: from visualizing stories, to stories of visualization.

 

The Tyranny of Stories

However, stories also have a darker side, which Mike referred to as ‘The tyranny of stories”. People can be persuaded to buy into a story based on false premises, like signing up for a subprime mortgage, or to invade a country based on factual lies. Consequently, the power of stories makes them suitable for misuse, just like data and statistics can easily be misused.

 

Data visualization as a story space

Comparing big data with stories is, of course, somehow like comparing apples and oranges. I agree that data needs a story if you want to communicate something specific. However, in the context of data exploration and analysis, for example, you might want to visualize and present data without a tightly choreographed story. Such a visualization would allow the user to navigate and explore the data him/herself, and thereby create new, previously unknown stories. In that way, big data becomes a ‘story space’ in which a multiplicity of stories can reside.

Thanks to Mike and the rest of the GameChangers for an extraordinary event filled with stories to remember!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Comments to Story kicking big data

Jay
September 27, 2013

Scientific research can also be seen as creating a story out of (often big) data, but science tends to proceeds, like courtrooms, by story, critique, and counter-story. That’s not always the best way to support innovation and creative thinking. We need to think about how stories are used, about the kind of story-culture they live in.

One such culture is the exploratory one of many stories, many points of view on the same data, complementary, like Roshomon, or Bohr’s notion that any reality is too complex to be understood through just one story.

Bonifer
October 22, 2013

Jay, something Jon Olav didn’t mention is that Bohr’s notion and the Rashomon Effect in networks is accounted for in growing body of work around the quantum physics of storytelling. We touched on this briefly at the presentation in Ron’s pool. (The graffiti art on the left wall of the pool, painted that night by Ron’s son, Delfin Finley, references it.) J.O. thank you for your observations. I am grateful.

Leave a comment

I am a Norwegian interaction designer and design researcher, currently working in Los Angeles and Oslo. This blog reports on topics related to my design research on interface design, navimation, and data visualization. About me.

Navimation is a concept denoting the combination of navigation and visual motion in screen-based interfaces. About navimation.

Search

RSS My latest bookmarks