Data visualizations have already changed your life

Molly Wood Jul 7, 2016
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Data visualizations have already changed your life

Molly Wood Jul 7, 2016
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Living in the digital age has given us all access to tons of data. And when trying to keep track of it all, it’s usually easier if it’s turned into pictures. When we look at poll data, voter numbers are organized into colors to determine red and blue states. Different websites use charts to record changes in weather patterns. You can even access personalized data through different apps that record everything from your daily physical activity to how you use your email. But infographics aren’t just fun to look at, they’ve also played a big role in shaping history.

Clive Thompson is a columnist for The Smithsonian Magazine, and wrote about it for their double July/August issue.   

On how the United States was expanded using data visualization:

Back in the 19th century, before the West of the U.S. was settled, there was a lot of people that thought it was a big, arid desert and nothing would ever grow there. Other people were, “No, I think it could happen.” And this was settled by people taking data on rainfall, and the direction of winds and whatnot, and essentially putting together data visualizations saying that they think it’s actually cyclical weather out there. Maybe not so good for crops, but perfectly good for say a huge herd of cattle. And so in some respects, these data visualizations gave business people the confidence to say, “Alright, let’s pour some money into developing the West.” 

Thompson’s thoughts on how data will shape our futures:

Today the average person is pretty comfortable when you show them some data. They’re not confused by what they’re looking at. And there’s so much more data now, because more tools are coming online. We’re sort of becoming these everyday data scientists. I think we’re just gonna be going more and more into this world where we can try and grapple with even our own personal lives by seeing the trend lines instead of just blundering around, wondering what’s going on.

 

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