There is a certain survival nature in our proclivity toward pictorial information. Being able to accurately assess one’s situation at a glance is an important factor for defending as well as foraging, whether in the forest or the city.
It is interesting that Internet development was a response to a threat to global survival, Bill Washburn once mentioned to me, I think it was around 1995, when we both worked for Mecklermedia (Jupiter Media), the company that created the original Internet World Trade Shows and Internet World publications. The net, he said, provides the impetus and the media and the fertile field for visual language development. It was developed to thrive in a leaderless, anarchic world. (I hope we’re not going there.)
Shared visual experience
Anyone who travels a bit witnesses a multiplicity of common visual cues. Of course there’s the welcome red and white stripe of a Coke sign, signaling refreshment nearby, only one among the many product brands which have become visually ubiquitous and a shorthand for other kinds of information. Signage systems tending toward the uniform have been implemented in transportation arteries.
Of course, there are the common visual cues we’ve always shared as a result of the experience of living on the same planet: sky, sun, stars, trees, rocks, animals, etc. People around the world share more visual experience than at any previous time. With the proliferation of electronic media, this trend is accelerating.
Evolving through data visualization
Our increasing ability to create — and read — visualizations of large, complex, many-dimensional data sets is a manifestation of how we are evolving the “thinking layer” of the planet, as Tielhard de Chardin calls it, which I am assuming is an evolutionary step forward.
As this abstract, thinking layer of the Internet develops and evolves, individuals gain in freedom of choice. And as they make more and more choices, they become ever more themselves.
About the images, top to bottom: the shadow of a utility pole against the neighboring apartment building at sunset, a cell phone credit company sign in rural Jamaica, twisted vines in rural Michigan, a section of a data visualization I made to illustrate the relationships between several dozen databases of customer information at Orbitz Worldwide.