Data, Data Everywhere, Not a Lot in Sync: Reconciling Visual Meaning with Data
Pieter Marthinus de Kock
What is visual data; how is it converted into useful information; and where should we look for it? Is data causing a mismatch between mind and environment? Data has emerged as our modern zeitgeist. Up to 100 billion devices will be seeking to visually map out our existence over the internet by 2020 (UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser 2014). Information provides meaning to human and non-human data in two ways. One way is in how humans convert data into information to understand inanimate objects. But inanimate objects also convert data. Humans now also exist as inanimate constructs; as data points. Both as prey and predator. The second way is in how humans and inanimate objects are both virtual actants: humans as subconscious beings; and inanimate objects as digital constructs. These similarities highlight the allure of data to the individual and vice-versa. Meaning drives us to “discover where the real power lies” (Appleyard 1979, 146) and the power that data possesses appears to be problematic as it is perceived to increasingly blur life’s boundaries. This paper is theoretical; and empirical examples are intended only to illustrate a philosophically driven point highlighting how, to be visually sustainable, our world depends on data. It suggests that data is an unseen and unspent force struggling to meaningfully sync with our visual world. It is centered on the premise that philosophy, not technology underpins visual sustainability. Lastly, it adds to the conversation by exploring three conceptual studies around past, present, and future states of data production; and introducing three new categories: data we get from data; data produced from objects; and how objects can now be produced from data. And what this all might mean for how we are sustained by our visual world.
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