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!
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!
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