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Posted by on Oct 13, 2010

We Feel Fine: My emotive questions answered (almost)

Jen and I stumbled across a great tool that answers most of what I had requested from my Emotive Earth post, which was essentially an open call for developing a tool that would allow me to monitor, compare, analyze the world’s emotional health through its digital mediums of blogging, social media, etc. This tool is called We Feel Fine. It is highly recommended if you enjoy this sort of thing.

I am very attracted to this new energy towards visualizing data (primarily textual), but it has taken me quite some time to determine why. The readings this week on the moral authority of text (Kress) and transliteracy helped me articulate what I see happening here a bit. Visualizations are pragmatically sense-making tools, taking large datasets and transforming those into a visual representation. They are highly subjective, however, as the data can certainly be crafted into anything. More importantly, at least for our discussion on multimodal literacy, is the layer of complexity and meaning they attach to a unit of measurement.

We as humans have, in our unending process to understand, attached abstractions on abstractions, layers on layers, complexity on complexity. First, there was a thing, a thing we saw with our eyes, touched with our hands, heard with our own ears. Then we needed a word for that thing. So language emerged (please disregard my childlike explanation of a very complex task-just a narrative); however, this language wasn’t that portable. One had to be in earshot. So symbols emerged to convey the meaning. First pictures on cave walls (in keeping with our themes) and then alphabets used to convey those images.

Rock art found deep in the Sahara of a giraffe. This indicates that the Sahara was verdant; rock art serves as a marker of complexity and an artefact, evidence of movement.

These alphabets were abstracted into words, words into phrases, phrases into books, etc. All layers of meaning built on top of layers of meaning. My background is in Information Science and this is how we view information, as taxonomies waiting to be stacked. Chunking/segmenting meaning by putting like things together. The same as we do in language.

So, these visualizations represent a grouping, an extra layer of complexity to bound text in greater meaning. It is fun that it is indeed visuals that do this, reverting in some sense to paintings on cave walls, but that is to be expected. Regardless of how many literacies we can conjure, there are only so many senses to experience them with. However, I am inclined to believe that these visualizations are indeed a new form of language, of communication. When we discuss literacy, I feel as though it zeroes in a bit on the individual act, the ability of the individual to interpret their world through signs, markers, symbols.

There is more to it than that. Literacy as expression, as communication, as collaboration. I think these visualizations drive towards this shared vernacular, offering something that cuts across (in some ways) cultures, languages, and viewpoints. We are crafting meaning from symbols, language from meaning. This is the end result of this pursuit of literacy. Or at least as I see it.

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