SM&Society Day 3: Keynote

Desiring numbers: when social media data are ordinary

It was interesting to listen to Helen Kennedy talk once more about how visualising data is not merely a cognitive process, but also an affective one. Her research in the Seeing Data project reveals the extent to which we react on an emotional level to data, especially those presented visually. These responses can be both positive and negative, so it becomes crucial for those interested in disseminating data to be aware that they are not simply passing on information in a neutral way, but may be affecting the recipients emotionally.

I wondered in what ways other forms of visual media invoke similar or different responses, if the images don’t have to carry with them the numerical burden that visualisations do? The talk yesterday discussing how gifs might invoke meaning making perhaps has parallels; they doubtless also prompt an emotional response, yet the playfulness with which they’re (usually) created perhaps has a different outcome.

When asked whether artists might usefully contribute to the field of visualising data, Helen of course welcomed the possibility. Projects like the WWI ceramic poppy memorial at the Tower of London a couple of years ago used multimodal, multi-sensory channels to remind us of the figures behind the events being commemorated. What this talk particularly helped me with was in reminding me to keep the affective issues in mind. As I shift towards a more ontological sensibility, and am keen to explore my participants’ realities, their emotional responses to professional learning may warrant a closer consideration.

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