Graphesis, Second Chapter Summary

Chapter 2: Interpreting Visualization, Visualizing Interpretation

This chapter is a long tour through through several histories of information graphics. It begins with a tour through different graphical formats, some common, some less so. Many of the styles and format share certain principles, that function together in a systematic way. Thus the examples chosen are meant to bring order to information. I thought this sentence was quite relevant: "The challenge is to break the literalism of representational strategies and engage with innovations in interpretative and inferential modes that augment human cognition." This made me think twice about my approach to the clock exercise; perhaps there are additional ways to actually aid our understanding then just re-creating the already familiar?

The next section on what conventions we use is also interesting. For example, we all experience day and night and have clear markers for these things; but there is no clear delineation for say an hour or a minute, yet we accept these as familiar cultural norms. Also the notion of time "slow book", "fast movie" can also be very much one of individual experience and variable. I think it is very much Drucker's point that "data are capta" - they represent an observer's point of view.

I do like how Drucker keeps coming back to her definition of knowledge generators. The comparison to statistical graphs on pg. 89 is helpful in understanding the difference. Knowledge generators can give rise instead to "multiple interpretations or analysis." I think I see the point; statistical graphics are usually just representations of data; knowledge generators product the knowledge themselves. I think the diagrams on pg. 115 are the best example of this - as Drucker says the diagrams "perform the act of reasoning". I was less impressed with the idea that a list of numbers is a knowledge generator - meaning because they can be added they produce knowledge. "Combinatoric Calculation" seems like an overly broad definition.

I think Drucker's take on the John Snow map is telling. "Each dot represents a life, and no life is identical." I'm not sure if she is suggesting the dots should reflect different variables. I could imagine the map becoming overly and needlessly complex. After all the map was a tool to solve a problem, which it did help.

The idea of turning the map into an explorable 3-D type world is interesting, but to what end? I think this is where Drucker is looking for a "story". I'm not sure if this visualization benefits from being turned into a 3-D exploratory world.

Drucker seems to provide a deeper explanation of 'humanistic' on page 130. In my reading, her point is 'humanistic' is basically the opposite of objectivity. Scales contain breaks, repetitions, edges of shapes may be "permeable" and graphics represent a point of view. Her sentence "recognizing that such methods are anathema to the empirically minded makes even more clear they are essential..." I find myself agreeing with some of her views but shaking my head at the poor argumentation for them.