Fast Co. recently ran a piece about ‘data visualisation’ company Tableau with the arresting headline ‘What Tinder did for dating, Tableau wants to do for spreadsheets’. I think the point is ‘swipe-able’ graphics. And mass appeal.
As someone who did their degree in information graphics I get the power of this medium, but as a happily married man in his forties I have no personal experience of the appeal of Tinder (honest). I would observe however (from my vantage point on the benches) that the presumed ultimate goal of Tinder (sex) seems to quickly be replaced by a bovine enjoyment of swiping the screen. The means to the end becomes an addictive yet inconsequential diversion in its own right. I wonder, swiping aside, is where the Tableau approach and Tinder really converge? That such information swiping might be a route to insight, but might equally devolve to snacking on meaningless (if attractive) information?
My point is we seem to be confusing style with content a bit. Big data becomes ‘small data’ that we can comprehend as humans via such visualisation, and that’s a good thing. But whatever happened to simple observation? Instant statistical gratification might reduce our ability to stop for a moment and take the time to really look at the world around us for our insights and inspiration.
As Marshall McLuhan famously noted ‘The medium is the message’ – the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, and the medium influences how the message is perceived. More easily digestible information is (I think) an inarguably good thing. However, it’s down to us as consumers to ensure that the information diet doesn’t become junk food.