Hi! I am Valeria, I am a first year PhD student in the Italian Studies department. My academic background is in art history although I worked for several years as freelance journalist which is how I first came to approach information technology. My research interests lie somewhere in between art, technology and media in contemporary italian culture.

Last year, I visited Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and the theme of the festival was “The Big Picture”. There, I saw many examples of information visualization, and most of them are still visible on visualizing.org website. Being there and realizing how many data are processed, stored and available through Telecommunication Data Retention (TDR) gave me the impression that a big picture was indeed achievable at this time. In his dissertation “Computational Information Design”, Ben Fry affirms: “the quantity of such data makes it extremely difficult to gain a big picture”… of course, in his introduction, he was referring to billions of letters representing tens of thousands of genes, but it is easy to get overwhelmed by replacing the word genes with historical facts, books, paintings, artifacts, images, videos and so forth.

Yet, I couldn’t help but liking the big picture where lots of data are displayed showing relationships in a fluid, endless movement. It feels real, like the movement of people on a buzzing sidewalk, although I am not able to capture each of them individually, I perceive their presence as a moving multitude and I know they are moving through time and space. At this point, you might be thinking of a moving image, but I am thinking of this.

Now, there’s an old map (first published on 1977) that masterfully makes the invisible visible, it shows relationships and it is visually striking (this last part, although less scientific, is one of my favorite). I know this image is referenced in Tufte’s book titled Visual Explanations, not in the reading assigned to this week, but I think it is a good example of some of the principles Tufte talks about in Envisioning Information such as serving the purpose of allowing to reason an array data at one’s pace and manner (Tufte, p. 31); highlighting the differences that make the difference (Tufte, p. 65); or simply, not using words which can be a deterrent to international communication (Tufte, p. 27). It is a little bit confusing at first, where the presence and beauty of the design overwrites the content, but as soon as your brain zooms in and starts to get the big picture, you appreciate it even more for the ability to combine content and design.

In her essay “Presuming images and consuming words: the visualization of knowledge from the Enlightenment to post-modernism” Stafford says: “(…) perception (aisthesis) is a significant form of knowledge (episteme)” (Stafford, p. 473). I am not a musicologist nor a music historian, therefore I might be overestimating Reebee Garofalo’s Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music, but it is a powerful image from which it is a pleasure to learn about music history. Does it serve its purpose, then? Later on, during this course, I might get to know whether or not this chart seems so valuable to me for the information it conveys or simply for its visual properties. For now, I enjoy sharing it with you all and thinking about the possibilities to improve it with current technology.