Colorful, Streaming Infographics Give Cold Data A Friendlier Face
The technological and scientific progress of just the past decade, not to mention the past century, has been staggering. It’s important that people are not only aware of this progress but also understand how and why it came about. Museums traditionally exhibit artifacts that are representative of these changes comfortably couched within a particular moment in time that’s already passed. However, it’s no longer enough to simply offer an overview of what has already occurred. As our society becomes increasingly digital, it is of the utmost importance that people understand how technology is mediating our lives and experiences. We are not only observers of innovation and advancement but participants as well. Technological progress is not something of a bygone era that has subsequently affected our lives. It is a phenomenon that exists in a continuum that is constantly in flux and transforms our lives on a daily basis.
IBM’s new THINK exhibit is a fully immersive multimedia experience that is representative of the ever-shifting nature of technological progress and digital mediation. It provides an overview of scientific and technological progress over the last century, as well as real-time information about its surrounding geographies. It is made up of several components that lend themselves to investigating how contemporary society engages, interacts and participates in information sharing and exchange today.
A massive data wall, designed in part by Creator Casey Reas, lines the outside of Lincoln Center. Utilizing real-time live streaming it displays data visualizations of traffic, solar energy and air quality. Within the context of an exhibit, it invites visitors to approach the data as a reverential object that should not only be appreciated but reflected upon critically. These types of phenomena are so omnipresent in our lives that it can be difficult to approach them as more than something that simply exists. The visualization of complex systems of data into a form that is more consumable makes it more transparent and gives visitors the sense that they can, not only understand, but respond to the data as well. It empowers people to feel that they can enact change. In a sense, it makes complexity comprehensible and malleable.
In addition to the data wall, an immersive film and interactive exhibition space round out the experience. The film unfolds across several screens that surround visitors in the history that precipitated the technologically-powered experience they are immersing themselves in. It’s meant to inspire, as much as the subsequent interactive segment is meant to invite participation. Models are provided so people can learn through actual use, and visitors do become an actual part of the exhibit through their feedback and engagement.
Our world has become, and continues to become, increasingly mediated by technology. One of the main concerns with this kind of mediation is that if people do not actively strive to understand it and become part of the conversation, they will lose their ability to be part of this progress and enact change. Participatory, immersive and interactive design in the presentation of both art and history are integral components in an exhibit that is contemporaneous with such a heavily mediated society and culture. We are at the behest of tools, code, information and software and it behooves us to understand the things we take for granted, especially since they play such a crucial role in shaping our current experiences both in the virtual and physical world. There is a careful balance between being controlled by the design of our digitally augmented lives and taking control of that design to transform simple change into scientific and technological progress.
THINK’s website says they want to explore progress through a common and systematic approach. When experience is heavily moderated, mediated and augmented it is fascinating to think of how systematized experience becomes. However, systematized approaches have the potential to be the most surprising. Translating information into a controlled, communicable form allows visitors to use it to their advantage in order to transform the future with their own hands.
The THINK exhibit is on view at Lincoln Center in NYC from September 23rd to October 23rd in celebration of IBM’s anniversary. Find (free) ticket information here.