Data Visualization is everywhere. You may not have really noticed as it began to creep out of the offices, into the streets, your homes, and onto your TV screens and computer games, but it has happened.
If you’re a professional athlete, chances are you would have noticed, since most things about daily life (read training, what they are eating, when they have physio, etc.) is recorded and measured. For the rest of us though, the change has been more gradual.
Back in the 80’s and even the 90’s, data visualization was simplistic at best. We suddenly had these wonderful devices that could easily render information into a visual format that was much easier to look at and understand than simply rows upon rows of numbers. But data visualization during those times were generally left in the office or for the pioneering and fiscal few on their personal computers where they displayed finances.
Flash forward to today. Data visualization has become a staple for every department in every type of business. Whether you’re a CEO looking at an executive dashboard or even a construction worker examining hours logged for different projects. We have stock tickers where spark lines have begun to show up displaying each stock’s recent trading history. Every media outlet includes charts, graphs, and maps now, not to mention the increasingly popular infographic. Video games like SimCity, Wii Sports, and Civilization all have it. It follows you around on your phone with providers allowing you to graph your data usage. Heck, we have data visualization optimized for when we’re sleeping with applications that measure and display one’s sleeping patterns.
It’s not as if we never had data before, or the desire to visualize that information in a meaningful and easy to understand way. What’s changed?
Computers have allowed us to easily visualize information that normally would have taken hours (and in some cases weeks) to do. Software has become more sophisticated allowing more ‘casual users’ to visualize information themselves. In short, it has become much easier to visualize information.
Mobile devices or mini portable computers have allowed us to take information with us on the go. We can access and display the data we want. Making it much easier to access information. They also tie into the point.
One thing that has become abundantly clear in terms of advancement over the past 30 years has been how we communicate. We have gone from faxes, landlines, mail, and pneumatic tubes to email, text messages, mobile devices, and 3D printers. Certainly in the western world we have come to expect results immediately. When a web page takes more than a couple seconds to load we find ourselves sighing, or even cursing. We have come to expect to constantly be in touch with each other, with news, and… with information.
We are on the cusp of the data age. A time where information will not only be collected on all aspects of business, but of our personal lives as well. Remember the example of the athlete earlier? Mobile devices are turning into a sort of personal recording device. Measuring our interactions, our likes and dislikes, where we go, when we are most active, diet, and exercise. Big Data is one of the biggest buzz words around right now, much like Mobile BI was in 2010/11. While things like Social media analytics are currently pushing Big Data to new heights, it ain’t seen nothing yet. As a species, we are inquisitive by nature. We seek to understand our world, our society, and each other. While being able to display data certainly won’t help us understand all of our questions, it will certainly provide us with further insight into it and into ourselves.