Monday, August 29, 2005

Visual Shock

Beginning with a brief entry from Nixlog, I clicked into a now month-old discussion of the visual shock resulting from the overwhelming complexity of some information graphics. 

From Beyond Bullets:

Have you ever been so confused by the complexity of a map, chart or diagram, that you didn't know where to begin to make sense of it?

I'm interested in the correspondence between visual shock and a reader's textual disorientation--the momentary (sometimes longer) freeze of confusion that comes with feeling lost.  And I'm trying to think about this occurrence--a gasp of dislocation--that marks the shock, its hold, its way of keeping us lost for a moment.  This can work in a couple of different ways, but the discussion at Beyond Bullets (which, in fairness, appears to be concerned with the creative limits of PowerPoint and the visual presentation of simple models and diagrams) suggests that the dislocation (lost-ness) results from the labyrinthine quality of the map (an inherent, fixed quality, the failure of design).  I gather this from the suggestion that someone can be a victim of the map and the map's complexity.

Brief though it is, this discussion--coupled with the WPA-l thread "visual model of complexity"--has me wondering about two paths in visualization (infographics more than photography, although the move to generalize just might hold up): one prefers for the visual object to do the work of simplifying the complex, of reducing complexity to something much easier to see or take in; the other prefers for the visual object to complicate or exceed that which has already been depicted as simple but is not.  This second path would have the visual object contend with commonplace orderings of activity (such as writing in the WPA thread).  Here lies a pun in visual shock.  In the first, the shock is felt by the reader/observer whose method of reading is reductive...the one who wants meaning and only meaning (and any meaning).  The second exacts a shock on the id(ol|le)s, repudiates them with a bolt of complexity.  These two trajectories in the production of information graphics--one given to simplifying the complex, the other given to complicating the commonplaces or disturbing the perceived-to-be-simple--don't quite exhaust the felt of visual shock when we meet the visual (this might go to receivables, also).  If we fluff this out to a set of rhetorical terms, it's hard not to include attitude or manner.  I say this because it should remain a possibility that we could fancy or enjoy the being lost as an opening for imagination--dream/wonder/splits from a duty to one reality-scape in the map. Attitude and manner draw on Burke (what's more dramatic than shock?); I only want to mention it briefly because I'd like to come back to some of these ideas, especially the rift between simple/complex in infographics, the possibility of connecting these up with readerly/writerly distinctions, and the impact of attitude or manner on receivables (esp. the visual).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 29, 2005 10:30 PM to Distances

"Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography."

- Thoreau

Posted by: pops at September 1, 2005 7:51 PM

Good one, Dad. I like the idea of home-cosmography.

Posted by: Derek at September 1, 2005 9:43 PM