Week 9 Response

Group 3’s post and this week’s readings/discussion have been focused on how, or even if, digital society has effected the person-to-person society or the “real” world. Boesel delves into the idea of the “quantified self” and how its popularity has exploded over the past decade whether it be for the health-minded academics of the future or the “fiendish, delusional narcissists,” while Mejias takes the structure of a modern network and applies it to a society integrated by social media. While both seem to believe that the digital society has taken root in the real world and that this is a positive thing, these are still up for debate. Most importantly, it is neither good nor bad. Our digital society definitely affects the ability and kind of networking, development of ideas, and day to day communication between physical bodies but can never replace the connection of 1-on-1 interaction.

One of the most interesting aspects of social media platforms like Facebook is the creation of not just a supplementary connection for those people we see from day to day, but an alternate connection for those who we never plan to meet. We find ourselves creating a digital connection that is either redundant in that it is trumped by constant human interaction or potential in that the satisfaction of being validated by the creation of a new connection comes before the necessary work.

But nonetheless, digital society allows like-minded people to gather and trade ideas on the free market from the comfort on their own screens. While this may sound wonderful, and in practice it allows for the abundance of support and advice where it is needed and unfortunately unavailable, it leads to the false pretense that all ideas can be expressed without ramification in day to day life from person to person.

Finally, due to this newfound ability to express without ramification, many attempt to bring the impulsive, reactionary tendencies of the digital society and are met with much resistance due to the ever-present fears of judgement, criticism, and embarrassment of the person-to-person interaction.

With all mind, it’s easy to see that physical interaction will always be the mainstream of interpersonal communication whether it be out of desire, efficiency, or simple necessity. In the same way the computer was to eliminate the printed page or the escalator to the simple staircase (look how far we’ve come), the digital world will never be able to surpass the the physical though we have tried in emojis, expressive acronyms, and gifs. Even the “friend,” the “follow,” and the “like” fail to match the real-life counterparts as we continue to specify the site that they derive from.

 

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The articles we read for today focused on the lack of an overarching consensus structure to today’s digital realms, and the network structure’s effects on society. “Data Occupations”  compared the Quantified Self movement to Occupy Wall Street, where each individual gathering their own data / making their own stance in a common space can be seen as a larger group effect, but is organized from the bottom up not the top down. There are no decisions made about who can say what, in what way or when, no hierarchical structures planned out for content to be created within.

Ulises Ali Mejias in “Computers as Socializing Tools” echoed this thought in his comments about the system of “tagging” in modern social media. Each person creates their own content and tags it in a manner by which it can be found, but there is no hierarchical structure of agreed-upon tags and tagging conventions a from which a user chooses. He writes, “… the digital network does not facilitate all kinds of social behaviors equally, it merely conserves or solidifies those behaviors that can be observed, measured, and quantified.” In this way, the users behaviors are adapted to the format of the content sharing, conforming our actions to be computer-readable.

We are encouraged into this format because “The economics of the network are such that a node’s existence depends on its ability to obtain attention from others, to allow its movements to be monitored and its history to be known.” We desire the economic currency of likes, shares, and followers to validate our own existence as a hub node in the network. We try to maximize our economic values by gaming the system, by posting content at peak times or tailoring our content to target certain audiences that will guarantee that our online actions will garner attention. He writes that we need no censorship online because we censor our own content in order to highlight what we want to be seen, to maximize the presence of our digital personas.

Mejias also makes the connection of algorithms as allegories for social acts – to friend, to like, to follow. Is our digital society shaping the way our actual society functions? Have the definitions of friend, like, and follow changed because of their digital values? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

  • Julia, Niall and Charles

Observer’s Data Week 8

For our second round of observations, we decided to collect data on classmates’ travel over Fall Break by sending out a survey asking about whether or not they travelled, where, by what means, and why.

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This is the complete travel plan for the class over Fall Break using Google’s travel plan app with 5 people driving and 1 person flying.

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We also took into account the different distances of each trip. Although the flight to New York was the longest, many were not phased by the notion of driving almost the same distance. The total distance travelled by the class over Fall Break was 2105 miles. If driving a Hummer, that would cost you upwards of $500. If riding a Moped, it might cost you $10.

Subjective Maps

Today’s readings and discussion made us think about how information is presented. The readings emphasize the surface-level depth of powerpoint and how map makers must decide the important geographic details to include in any given map. Group 2 gave a good summary about how what is deemed important is turned into a “white lie” and how maps tell incomplete truths in order to achieve their specific purposes. The example of different maps of Davidson College, one tooled towards drivers coming into town and one for pedestrians walking around campus (as well as the least realistic, most visually appealing one) show how maps created for different purposes tell different stories.

In class discussion, we took this idea further and looked at how the presentation of information can not only tell different stories, but make arguments. Staying with maps, we looked at how different countries (mainly India and China) “fudge” their borders according to what land they each state is part of their country. We then looked at a Gerrymandering map to see the effect that redistricting can have on election outcomes. In the first case, governments present maps for country boundaries differently in order to stake land claims, and so that their citizens only think they own the land (and it is not disputed). In the second, an argument was made for reformation, particularly fighting against gerrymandering.

In response to the question that group 2 poses: “Does a universally good map exist?”, we don’t think so. We saw in class that maps are tailored to specific purposes, as it is impossible to include all the information in a location (say, a city) on a two dimensional, finite sheet of paper or screen. However, there are pros and cons to different types of maps, as a more detailed one holds more information but takes longer to understand. Any lies present should be justified as improving the effectiveness of that map’s intentions (for example, readability of highway maps for commuters). On that note, our preferred map of Davidson would be close to the second map, but less detailed, as it would be the most useful for us students. We mainly walk on this campus, so the map appeals to us for that reason, but we would prefer a map that’s easier to understand at a glance.

The above question also touches on a main theme of this course. Is there an unbiased way to present data? Do data presenters consider mainly internal biases or the needs of their audience when telling white lies?

An interactive map of Davidson College
Charles, Julia, Niall

A Universal Map

The creation of maps, just like the creation of other data visualizations, involves distorting reality and telling “white lies”. Mark Monmonier, in his book How to Lie with Maps, discusses the misuse of maps, the appropriate use of maps and the nature of maps. Our assigned reading includes Chapter 3, which explains the various techniques used and choices made when cartographers are creating a map, particularly because these become the “white lies” the maps tell.

 

The first essential part of creating a map is the selection of features for the map. However, equally as important are the features that the cartographers chooses not to include on the map. In the area you want to map, there could be multiple points and areas that could be included. Due to spatial limitations, only one of these areas may be included. After this, there are four important generalization operations – simplification, displacement, smoothing and enhancement. These are the steps taken by the cartographer to simplify the map and make it a usable visualization, depending on the purpose of the map.

 

So what is the “white lie”? “White lie” is a result of generalization, a combination of what’s included and what’s not. According to the reading, “a good map with ‘white lies’ suppresses truth to help the user see what needs to be seen”. One most common usage of map is for directions and geographic relations from place to place. On a road trip, the driver cares most about the overview to the destination; the overview of the cities to pass by thus forms the “white lie”, which tells the driver not to focus on the detailed road map of any city on the way. The ability to adjust the scale of brevity and succinctness according to user’s need is what makes maps such fit visualizations of geographic data. However, maps can be used to generate “white lies” on more than just geography, but also potentially any data based on geography. In figure 3.10 and 3.11 from the reading, Monmonier demonstrates how the same data on the same area can yield different-looking choropleth maps with different sets of class breaks. In the pictures, color choices and the area remain the same, but the class breaks for each color are different; while all four maps provide sufficient information as the legends are clearly labeled, it is very misleading to the audience at first glimpse because the color distributions look different. After all, the four maps tell the same information but our eyes tend to convince us not. The manipulation using color to deceive our eyes is considered a “white lie”, which in this case is for political propaganda. Impressions change with perspectives, which is a common trick of manipulation in data visualization.

 

We found 3 different cartographic representations of Davidson College, all of which display the correct layout of buildings, but also include the “white lies” discussed in the Monmonier reading.

Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 11.09.11 AM.pngThis first map is a map taken from Google Maps. It shows the main roads and only one building on the Davidson College campus. This map chooses to use different widths to demonstrate the business of the roads–the streets on campus are much smaller because there is less traffic. This map would be helpful for someone looking to approach the campus, but not for someone who wants to walk around campus or someone looking for a particular building on campus.

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This map gives a much more detailed representation of campus. It makes the choice to include a key rather than label the buildings individually. In fact, this is one of the materials included in the packet given out to the Freshmen class in the beginning of the school year to learn the campus. This would not be a good map for anyone coming from off campus, since the roads outside of campus are not labelled well or included.screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-10-13-am

This map is not drawn to scale and does not include any sidewalks or street names. This would be good for someone who is trying to get a general sense of the layout of buildings on campus. It is visually appealing to get an overview of the important buildings but it is not an accurate visualization.
All three maps above show the various mapping techniques in place. While they are all valid maps, some may be more appealing for different purposes than others. Does a universally good map exist? Are there some selection techniques that would be best in this case? How would you illustrate and map Davidson College?

Observing Stress

As observers last week, we sent out a survey asking about stress level and workload, as well as how typical that week’s workload was. The results were intuitive but interesting, and are presented below in the form of various graphs.

Raw data here.

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By Julia, Charles, and Niall.

Responders: October 4th, 2016

Data organization has been a common theme in our readings this week, and we see how such an organization can be especially powerful in real-life examples like the supermarkets discussed in Reader’s post on Monday. The layout of a grocery store is intentionally designed to manipulate customers and encourage them to shop around longer.

Lev Manovich discusses the transition from database, “a catalog of objects that does not have a default sort order”, to data stream, a form of organization prompted by the introduction of social media outlets like Facebook & Twitter. While database is static, data stream is dynamic. A key distinction between database and data stream is that: database is passive and requires human interaction to be effective and valuable, whereas data stream is simple, straightforward but active and initiates human interaction. In other words, data stream turns boring data into interesting information and brings it to our eye, effortlessly. Before the rise of the Internet, we read newspapers, a form of database; now, we go to Facebook or Twitter, because data stream provides the most up-to-date news automatically (in a way, it has somewhat made us “lazier” and “lazier” to explore information–tied up to another previous reading: <Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains>). In an interview, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that in the early stage of Facebook, he discovered that online users were most interested in knowing what other people were doing; from this client behavior, Facebook went on to implement the “News Feed” feature which is essentially a form of data stream that gives updates of people around you. In fact, social media almost always offers the latest events and updates, either in our friend group or globally, because we as consumers are attracted to the “new things”, which leads to more sales of advertisement.

Group 1 raised a question: whether we as consumers are subject to and influenced by marketing tactics from supermarkets; A similar question can be asked on social media. Just as supermarkets are designed to make consumers shop around longer, the layout of social media websites based on the philosophy of data stream encourages users to stay on site longer by having them scroll through a continuous stream of information and updates. As the writers in this Live Science article observe, (http://www.livescience.com/34649-why-internet-is-addictive.html) Facebook and social media sites are addicting because most of the content is junk with an occasional post that warrants a response. Without any clear stopping point in the stream of information, it is quite easy to stay online for hours on end. So is it possible that our online behaviors are not only monitored, but also manipulated by the “panopticon”? While it’s hard and unwilling to confirm, it’s also impossible to deny. From shopping at a supermarket to browsing latest news on social media, our behaviors have shifted more and more toward what the “bosses” desire them to be, without our awareness.