While reading Drucker’s article “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display,” I tried to think of various ways how certain data, although always sharing direct meaning, can be misinterpreted by slight changes in the appearance and presentation of the data. I was reminded how earlier this quarter in a class I am taking, the professor broke down the purpose of text messages by stating that they simply are tiny units of data sent from person to person via mobile data collector. From first-hand experience, I can also testify that these tiny units of data are constantly being misinterpreted by slight changes of appearance. I think we can all agree that the following two messages, although spoken exactly the same, elicit different interpretations and responses because of their presentation:
Both words mean exactly the same thing: OK. And they are also displaying the same data/message from recipient to sender: Whatever was previously said by the recipient of the message is okay with the sender. But there are slight obvious differences that completely change the expected interpretation and response. First of all, the first text “Ok” requires much less effort to type out than the second. Secondly, the second message includes a smiley face, which expresses positive emotions from the sender to the recipient without any extra words. Because the first message is just “Ok,” it is less likely for the recipient to respond to it because there is less to respond to. The message with the smiley face, although no more words are used, is more likely to receive a response, maybe even a smiley face from the recipient. Stated in the article, all data must be seen as capta. Taking a look at these text messages as capta rather than data explores the source of each message. The message with the smiley face not only captures the response, but also the emotion from the sender, which in turn provides more information to be presented and observed.
This example relates to the way data visualization graphs, timelines, etc. can be misinterpreted because of the presentation. There can be a lot lost in translation if data is merely an “expression of the subjective” rather than a “subjective expression of perceived phenomena,” which were both differentiated descriptions mentioned in the Ducker article. Visualizations really must be specific with what they are presenting, not only to present the correct data, but also so that viewers can understand exactly what this data means. The interpretation of the data by collectors must be allowed to be interpreted exactly the same way by the viewers of the collection.