What does Benjamin Bratton mean by the “spectacularization of the information,” and how do you think it should be addressed?
It’s funny you ask – according to my spell check, “spectacularization” is not considered a word! My software, upon right-clicking, actually states “no guesses found.” But none-the-less, I will proceed to define the concept in this brief essay that will resultantly consist of a lot of misspellings.
Let me start by saying that a lot of the issues that have been bubbling and cooking in the last ten, fifteen, twenty, even fifty years around ambient computation are seemingly all coming to a head; they are mainstreaming very quickly. You could say the future happened this year for pervasive computing.
You can’t walk through a design graduate program anywhere in the first world, whether in architecture, interaction design, or media arts, without seeing at least half a dozen beautiful “data smog” projects modeling ambient urban-environmental information in one way or another. A lot of the best projects of this type are being published very quickly and put directly into museums upon final file export.
There is something great about this, but also something troubling. The danger is that in their spectacularization of information, they in fact distance people—now “audiences” for data—even further from their abilities and responsibilities to understand relationships between the multiple ecologies in which they live, and the possibilities for action that they have.
They look like interfaces, but they are not interfaces. They are diagrams or maps at best. They appear to be interfaces and in this appearance they imply there must be an expert—an expert system—somewhere making use of this information in a way that is somehow having some effect. But mostly there is none. Outside of hanging on a museum wall or being blogged about, I’m not sure what they do.
-Benjamin Bratton in Situated Technologies Pamphlet 3
The notion of “spectacularizing information,” or what I might refer to instead as “data fetichism” is a new evolution in our daily visual culture and lives. Pie charts and bar diagrams have now become extinct methods of information visualization, and have paved the way for new, more explosive and decorative methods. This is not solely the result of a reaction to new forms of computer graphics, but is also the result of the obsessive collection of data in our society. Pie charts were great, but they simply can not hold enough information and accommodate our cultural hoarding of numbers and colors. This obsession, arguably a result of the synonymous growth of technological and paranoiac advancement, has lead to an abundance of information. We are now at a point in our culture in which the embedding of sensors in every open gap or crevice is a standard. These sensors respond back with information we have never known, and data that we previously could not comprehend resulting in an abundance of new methods for representing this data. This new abundance is what has created the “spectacularization of information,” or the obsessive compulsive desire to visualize and collect as much data as technologically possible while simultaneously innovating new technologies to collect more. Obviously a question that can arise from this considerable relevant topic is: just because we can, should we?
How do we respond to these innovations? Technology is an amazing phenomenon because of it’s ability to consistently evolve and teach us, as users, new things about the world. Thanks to these innovations, we are able to predict the next “super-storm,” the popularity of a new album, and the trends of our own economy. Technology, on the other hand, has had quite a negative effect on our culture for all of the same reasons it has had a positive one – we know too much. The average joe can now log on to webMD and know more about themselves than a doctor can, they can predict when the world will be invaded by aliens, they can find out that their next-door neighbor raped a 4 year old girl. This is all great, and extremely liberating to have access to all of this information, but at the same time – should we? There will never be a line drawn on what gets collected and how much of it is visualized because we have evolved into a species that requires to know more and more. My concern is that we will grow afraid of everything that is around us, and that we will become an obsessive compulsive nation which will lead to a lack of social skills, efficiency, health, and creativity.
Maybe we don’t need to know how many diseases are on a bug on a leaf in a park in a city in a town in a country on earth?