a girl goes to work (infographic video) 06.26.2006, 10:24 AM
posted by jesse wilbur
It's not often that you see infographics with soul. Even though visuals are significantly more fun to look at than actual data tables, the oversimplification of infographics tends to suck out the interest in favor of making things quickly comprehensible (often to the detriment of the true data points, like the 2000 election map). This Röyksopp video, on the other hand, a delightful crossover between games, illustration, and infographic, is all about the storyline and subverts data to be a secondary player. This is not pure data visualization on the lines of the front page feature in USA Today. It is, instead, a touching story encased in the traditional visual language and iconography of infographics. The video's currency belies its age: it won the 2002 MTV Europe music video award for best video.
Our information environment is growing both more dispersed and more saturated. Infographics serve as a filter, distilling hundreds of data points down into comprehensible form. They help us peer into the impenetrable data pools in our day to day life, and, in the best case, provide an alternative way to reevaluate our surroundings and make better decisions. (Tufte has also famously argued that infographics can be used to make incredibly poor decisions--caveat lector.)
But infographics do something else; more than visual representations of data, they are beautiful renderings of the invisible and obscured. They stylishly separate signal from noise, bringing a sense of comprehensive simplicity to an overstimulating environment. That's what makes the video so wonderful. In the non-physical space of the animation, the datasphere is made visible. The ambient informatics reflect the information saturation that we navigate everyday (some with more serenity than others), but the woman in the video is unperturbed by the massive complexity of the systems that surround her. Her bathroom is part of a maze of municipal waterpipes; she navigates the public transport grid with thousands of others; she works at a computer terminal dealing with massive amounts of data (which are rendered in dancing—and therefore somewhat useless—infographics for her. A clever wink to the audience.); she eats food from a worldwide system of agricultural production that delivers it to her (as far as she can tell) in mere moments. This is the complexity that we see and we know and we ignore, just like her. This recursiveness and reference to the real is deftly handled. The video is designed to emphasize the larger picture and allows us to make connections without being visually bogged down in the particulars and textures of reality. The girl's journey from morning to pint is utterly familiar, yet rendered at this larger scale and with the pointed clarity of a information graphic, the narrative is beautiful and touching.
ben vershbow on June 26, 2006 4:00 PM:
I got a much darker feeling from this astonishing video, which depicts a life as desensitized as the language of infographics. Like the best examples of complex data representation, the human pulses through (that moment where the girl is sitting on a park bench eating her lunch, waiting for the bell to summon her back to work), but you're simultaneously reminded of the limits of the palette. Ultimately, the girl's alienation is signified rather than shown -- a diagram of isolation. For the real deal, better to go to Kafka, or Eliot's "unreal city" in The Waste Land, or the BBC version of "The Office." Still, I don't know if I've ever encountered anything that packs so much sadness into cold signage.