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In-Formed: Physical Objects as Data Visualization

The other side of our silver platter, or what dinnerware and Africa have in common.

Data visualization is of special stature around here and makes frequent cameos — usually in the form of beautifully designed infographics or high-tech jaw-droppers. But designer Nadeem Haidary is creating a form of data viz so unorthodox and unexpected it constitutes its own genre — physical objects modified to visualize statistics about the activities they’re involved in.

The project, titled In-Formed, is part data visualization, part industrial design, part social awareness, exposing little-known facts designed to effect actual behavioral change by inspiring us to be a bit less wasteful.

It consists of three case studies, each embedding contextually relevant information into everyday objects related to the data.

Each prong represents the per-capita countries caloric intake of a different country. Each fork depicts the United States and three other countries ordered alphabetically.

[Statistics] may be striking when you first read them, but without context or placement in the physical world, they are rarely remembered and rarely change people’s behavior. What if this kind of information crawled off the page and seeped into the products that surround us?

The surface area of each of plate is proportionate to the food consumption in the region depicted on the plate.

There’s something incredibly powerful about infusing data with the physical reality it inhabits — an idea arguably pioneered by the incredible Chris Jordan, whom we’ve featured multiple times. It breeds a kind of visceral mindfulness missing from more traditional forms of data visualization — and, hopefully, that’s what makes the leap from awareness to action.

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Ordering The Chaos: The Internet Mapping Project

Dissecting the interwebs, or what digital toddlers have to do with infinite loops.

You know we’re in dire straits when Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web, says we no longer fully understand the Internet.

But Wired magazine founder and chronic digital culture explorer Kevin Kelly has set out to dissect the fabric of the web. His Internet Mapping Project is an effort to understand how people conceive of the Internet through a series of user-submitted hand-drawn maps.

The internet is intangible, like spirits and angels. The web is an immense ghost land of disembodied places. Who knows if you are even there, there. Yet everyday we navigate through this ethereal realm for hours on end and return alive. We must have some map in our head.

So far, there are close to 80 submissions by people of all ages, nationalities and expertise levels, ranging from the concrete to the conceptual to the comic.

The project has also sprouted further analysis of people’s understanding — Argentinean psychology professor Mara Vanina Oses has distilled a fascinating taxonomy of the maps themselves.

Our favorite submission is a visceral stride-stopper that manages to communicate the nature of the Internet with brilliant simplicity, capturing the sea of interestingness that surrounds our homebase of curiosity.

Each submission asks for the person’s age, occupation and average daily hours on the web. And while the diversity of entries is astounding — from an art student to a jazz musician moonlighting as an IT consultant to the manager of the 10,000 Year Clock project — we did notice some interesting correlations.

Those who spend the most time online, for instance, have the most abstract of drawings — perhaps an indication that a truly rich understanding lives in the realm of the abstract and conceptual, not the concrete, providing a big-picture view not of what the Internet does or offers, but of what it is: An infinite loop of possibility.

At the same time, those who spend the least amount of time tend to put themselves at the center of the Internet — a sign of the “developmental psychology” of the web, wherein “web toddlers,” just like real 1-4-year-olds, adopt an egocentric worldview, while “web adults” are better able to shift perspectives and see the collective context of it all.

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RiP: A Remix Manifesto

Why you’re an outlaw just by reading this, or how the era we live in will change creative culture forever.

It’s no secret we’re big proponents of remix culture around here — and strongly believe that the cross-pollination of ideas, the fundamental backbone of creativity, should be celebrated rather than hindered by copyright law. Which is why we love RiP: A Remix Manifesto, a documentary about copyright and remix culture.

Filmmaker Brett Gaylor, of Opensource Cinema fame, digs deep into the flaws of copyright in the information age, exploring the ever-murkier line between content consumers and producers.

The film echoes the excellent REMIX panel from a couple of months ago, featuring CreativeCommons founder Lawrence Lessig and the now-iconic Shepard Fairey. Not coincidentally, Lessig is a key player here as well, along with Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and BoingBoing’s own pop culture critic, Cory Doctorow.

RiP deals with the absurdities of copyright law — did you know, for example, that you have to pay royalties every time you sing Happy Birthday in a theater, restaurant or any other public space? Worst part: You wouldn’t even be paying to the two sisters who wrote the song — they’re long dead — but to Warner/Chappell, the world’s largest corporate music publisher.

RiP isn’t merely a documentation of the changes taking place, it’s a proposition — a manifesto, actually — for a new view of intellectual property that inspires, not obstructs, creativity.

In true walk-the-walk manner, the filmmaker has made all the footage available on Opensource Cinema, free for anyone to remix, while the film’s soundtrack is an open call for fan submissions. And for the ultimate new media cherry-on-top, if you live in the U.S., you can download the film under a pay-what-you-want model. (Remember how much we love those?)

Ironically, the very act of putting this documentary together is illegal by current copyright legislature — Gaylor’s use of samples by remix artists, whose work is in and of itself illegal, also violates the law. Doing it the legal way — getting clearance by paying royalties to the hundreds of copyright owners, most of whom aren’t even the original creators but mere media holding companies who bought the rights over the content — would’ve cost well over $4 million, making RiP the most expensive documentary ever produced.

And if that’s not a brilliant allegory for the fundamental brokenness of copyright law, we don’t know what is.

You can follow Brett on Twitter and support the project on Facebook.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing better to do than just watching the film (or grabbing it on a perfectly legal DVD) and really relishing this incredible new era of media that is unfolding around us.

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Emotional Cartography: Technologies of the Self

What hacking has to do with art, technology and being human.

If you enjoyed last week’s BioMapping project, it’s time we took it to the major leagues — of biometric visualization, art, and sociology, that is.

Emotional Cartography is an excellent, free book on emotion mapping, featuring a collection of essays by artists, designers, psychologists, cultural researchers, futurists and neuroscientists. Together, they explore the political, social and cultural implications of dissecting the private world of human emotion with bleeding-edge technology.

Greenwich Emotional Map

From art projects to hi-tech gadgets, the collection looks at emotion in its social context. It’s an experiment in cultural hacking — a way to bridge the individual with the collective through experiential interconnectedness.

Hacking is an idea, as well as a social movement, which is about subverting and reclaiming the tools and metaphors that we’re given. Hacking is a DIY culture of action — a very individualistic community, but still a community with a vision of shared benefits.

Download the book in PDF here, for 53 glorious pages of technology, art and cultural insight.

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