The Spectacular Dashboard

American family watches a parade of dashboards on a 1950s TV set
  1. We didn’t have a dedicated “home base” dashboard, with the other dashboards existing as counterfactuals or ways to pierce “filter bubbles” or provide evidence to confirm or disconfirm hypotheses or anything otherwise particularly noble from an epistemic hygiene standpoint. Instead, we found ourselves clicking aimlessly around a bunch of dashboards that purported to show the same information. We certainly had beliefs about accuracy or bias or credibility of particular dashboards, but we didn’t have a central “authoritative” dashboard to go off of. The phenomena under analysis were so fuzzy and had so many options for measurement that we were not necessarily certain that such a dashboard could exist, even in principle (even “official” dashboards from government agencies often didn’t have all the information or context we needed).
  2. There was very little we could actually do as a result of our information consumption. Or, rather, very little that we would have done differently as a result. The sky was yellow and smelled like a campfire; Michael wasn’t going to go fishing for a dashboard that gave him the best smoke result and use it as justification to run a marathon or anything. Similarly, when we were looking at case numbers out of first east Asia and then cruise ships and then by their ones and twos to dozens and hundreds in the rest of the world, there wasn’t much we could personally do in the short term with the data we had at hand other than passively consume it. It was behavior closer to “doomscrolling” through one’s social media feeds: building up anxiety about the state of the world as one learns about what is happening one tweet or data point at a time.
The control room of the Chilean Project CyberSyn and the war room from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove
Traditional conceptions of information display and control often invoke the metaphor of a “mission control” through which information about some whole flows (and is triaged) to a central group of decision-makers. Project Cybersyn’s utopian design (left) for economic control of the country, and Dr. Strangelove’s dystopian war room (in which fighting is strictly forbidden) share this project.
20th century Advertisements for punched card machines.
“Panoptic” mid-20th century advertisements for data processing systems from IBM and its German Subsidiary Dehomag. “Be Everywhere… watch everything” promises IBM, whereas Dehomag promises “Oversight.”
Blueprint of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon juxtaposed with patrons of a 3D movie.
Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon allows a centralized authority the capability to watch everything going on at once. Whereas Guy Debord’s notion of a Spectacle, while still about observation and social control, need not be centralized, and can function to create passivity rather than just compliance.
The Q Clock and a Republican-made chart of the ACA aka Obamacare
Conspiratorial and numbing information design. On the left, the “Q Clock” is used by Q Anon to make predictions and add (hallucinatory) structure to “drops” from Q. On the right, Republicans opposed to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) construct an intentionally confusing and illegible chart of “Your New Health Care System” to argue for the ACA’s complexity and infeasibility.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Michael Correll

Michael Correll

Information Visualization, Data Ethics, Graphical Perception.