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  • It feels like we're all suffering

  • from information overload or data glut.

  • And the good news is there might be an easy solution to that,

  • and that's using our eyes more.

  • So, visualizing information, so that we can see

  • the patterns and connections that matter

  • and then designing that information so it makes more sense,

  • or it tells a story,

  • or allows us to focus only on the information that's important.

  • Failing that, visualized information can just look really cool.

  • So, let's see.

  • This is the $Billion Dollar o-Gram,

  • and this image arose

  • out of frustration I had

  • with the reporting of billion-dollar amounts in the press.

  • That is, they're meaningless without context:

  • 500 billion for this pipeline,

  • 20 billion for this war.

  • It doesn't make any sense, so the only way to understand it

  • is visually and relatively.

  • So I scraped a load of reported figures

  • from various news outlets

  • and then scaled the boxes according to those amounts.

  • And the colors here represent the motivation behind the money.

  • So purple is "fighting,"

  • and red is "giving money away," and green is "profiteering."

  • And what you can see straight away

  • is you start to have a different relationship to the numbers.

  • You can literally see them.

  • But more importantly, you start to see

  • patterns and connections between numbers

  • that would otherwise be scattered across multiple news reports.

  • Let me point out some that I really like.

  • This is OPEC's revenue, this green box here --

  • 780 billion a year.

  • And this little pixel in the corner -- three billion --

  • that's their climate change fund.

  • Americans, incredibly generous people --

  • over 300 billion a year, donated to charity every year,

  • compared with the amount of foreign aid

  • given by the top 17 industrialized nations

  • at 120 billion.

  • Then of course,

  • the Iraq War, predicted to cost just 60 billion

  • back in 2003.

  • And it mushroomed slightly. Afghanistan and Iraq mushroomed now

  • to 3,000 billion.

  • So now it's great

  • because now we have this texture, and we can add numbers to it as well.

  • So we could say, well, a new figure comes out ... let's see African debt.

  • How much of this diagram do you think might be taken up

  • by the debt that Africa owes to the West?

  • Let's take a look.

  • So there it is:

  • 227 billion is what Africa owes.

  • And the recent financial crisis,

  • how much of this diagram might that figure take up?

  • What has that cost the world? Let's take a look at that.

  • Dooosh -- Which I think is the appropriate sound effect

  • for that much money:

  • 11,900 billion.

  • So, by visualizing this information,

  • we turned it into a landscape

  • that you can explore with your eyes,

  • a kind of map really, a sort of information map.

  • And when you're lost in information,

  • an information map is kind of useful.

  • So I want to show you another landscape now.

  • We need to imagine what a landscape

  • of the world's fears might look like.

  • Let's take a look.

  • This is Mountains Out of Molehills,

  • a timeline of global media panic.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I'll label this for you in a second.

  • But the height here, I want to point out,

  • is the intensity of certain fears

  • as reported in the media.

  • Let me point them out.

  • So this, swine flu -- pink.

  • Bird flu.

  • SARS -- brownish here. Remember that one?

  • The millennium bug,

  • terrible disaster.

  • These little green peaks

  • are asteroid collisions.

  • (Laughter)

  • And in summer, here, killer wasps.

  • (Laughter)

  • So these are what our fears look like

  • over time in our media.

  • But what I love -- and I'm a journalist --

  • and what I love is finding hidden patterns; I love being a data detective.

  • And there's a very interesting and odd pattern hidden in this data

  • that you can only see when you visualize it.

  • Let me highlight it for you.

  • See this line, this is a landscape for violent video games.

  • As you can see, there's a kind of odd, regular pattern in the data,

  • twin peaks every year.

  • If we look closer, we see those peaks occur

  • at the same month every year.

  • Why?

  • Well, November, Christmas video games come out,

  • and there may well be an upsurge in the concern about their content.

  • But April isn't a particularly massive month

  • for video games.

  • Why April?

  • Well, in April 1999 was the Columbine shooting,

  • and since then, that fear

  • has been remembered by the media

  • and echoes through the group mind gradually through the year.

  • You have retrospectives, anniversaries,

  • court cases, even copy-cat shootings,

  • all pushing that fear into the agenda.

  • And there's another pattern here as well. Can you spot it?

  • See that gap there? There's a gap,

  • and it affects all the other stories.

  • Why is there a gap there?

  • You see where it starts? September 2001,

  • when we had something very real

  • to be scared about.

  • So, I've been working as a data journalist for about a year,

  • and I keep hearing a phrase

  • all the time, which is this:

  • "Data is the new oil."

  • Data is the kind of ubiquitous resource

  • that we can shape to provide new innovations and new insights,

  • and it's all around us, and it can be mined very easily.

  • It's not a particularly great metaphor in these times,

  • especially if you live around the Gulf of Mexico,

  • but I would, perhaps, adapt this metaphor slightly,

  • and I would say that data is the new soil.

  • Because for me, it feels like a fertile, creative medium.

  • Over the years, online,

  • we've laid down

  • a huge amount of information and data,

  • and we irrigate it with networks and connectivity,

  • and it's been worked and tilled by unpaid workers and governments.

  • And, all right, I'm kind of milking the metaphor a little bit.

  • But it's a really fertile medium,

  • and it feels like visualizations, infographics, data visualizations,

  • they feel like flowers blooming from this medium.

  • But if you look at it directly,

  • it's just a lot of numbers and disconnected facts.

  • But if you start working with it and playing with it in a certain way,

  • interesting things can appear and different patterns can be revealed.

  • Let me show you this.

  • Can you guess what this data set is?

  • What rises twice a year,

  • once in Easter

  • and then two weeks before Christmas,

  • has a mini peak every Monday,

  • and then flattens out over the summer?

  • I'll take answers.

  • (Audience: Chocolate.) David McCandless: Chocolate.

  • You might want to get some chocolate in.

  • Any other guesses?

  • (Audience: Shopping.) DM: Shopping.

  • Yeah, retail therapy might help.

  • (Audience: Sick leave.)

  • DM: Sick leave. Yeah, you'll definitely want to take some time off.

  • Shall we see?

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • So, the information guru Lee Byron and myself,

  • we scraped 10,000 status Facebook updates

  • for the phrase "break-up" and "broken-up"

  • and this is the pattern we found --

  • people clearing out for Spring Break,

  • (Laughter)

  • coming out of very bad weekends on a Monday,

  • being single over the summer,

  • and then the lowest day of the year, of course: Christmas Day.

  • Who would do that?

  • So there's a titanic amount of data out there now,

  • unprecedented.

  • But if you ask the right kind of question,

  • or you work it in the right kind of way,

  • interesting things can emerge.

  • So information is beautiful. Data is beautiful.

  • I wonder if I could make my life beautiful.

  • And here's my visual C.V.

  • I'm not quite sure I've succeeded.

  • Pretty blocky, the colors aren't that great.

  • But I wanted to convey something to you.

  • I started as a programmer,

  • and then I worked as a writer for many years, about 20 years,

  • in print, online and then in advertising,

  • and only recently have I started designing.

  • And I've never been to design school.

  • I've never studied art or anything.

  • I just kind of learned through doing.

  • And when I started designing,

  • I discovered an odd thing about myself.

  • I already knew how to design,

  • but it wasn't like I was amazingly brilliant at it,

  • but more like I was sensitive

  • to the ideas of grids and space

  • and alignment and typography.

  • It's almost like being exposed

  • to all this media over the years

  • had instilled a kind of dormant design literacy in me.

  • And I don't feel like I'm unique.

  • I feel that everyday, all of us now

  • are being blasted by information design.

  • It's being poured into our eyes through the Web,

  • and we're all visualizers now;

  • we're all demanding a visual aspect

  • to our information.

  • There's something almost quite magical about visual information.

  • It's effortless, it literally pours in.

  • And if you're navigating a dense information jungle,

  • coming across a beautiful graphic

  • or a lovely data visualization,

  • it's a relief, it's like coming across a clearing in the jungle.

  • I was curious about this, so it led me

  • to the work of a Danish physicist

  • called Tor Norretranders,

  • and he converted the bandwidth of the senses into computer terms.

  • So here we go. This is your senses,

  • pouring into your senses every second.

  • Your sense of sight is the fastest.

  • It has the same bandwidth as a computer network.

  • Then you have touch, which is about the speed of a USB key.

  • And then you have hearing and smell,

  • which has the throughput of a hard disk.

  • And then you have poor old taste,

  • which is like barely the throughput of a pocket calculator.

  • And that little square in the corner, a naught .7 percent,

  • that's the amount we're actually aware of.

  • So a lot of your vision --

  • the bulk of it is visual, and it's pouring in.

  • It's unconscious.

  • The eye is exquisitely sensitive

  • to patterns in variations in color, shape and pattern.

  • It loves them, and it calls them beautiful.

  • It's the language of the eye.

  • If you combine the language of the eye with the language of the mind,

  • which is about words and numbers and concepts,

  • you start speaking two languages simultaneously,

  • each enhancing the other.

  • So, you have the eye, and then you drop in the concepts.

  • And that whole thing -- it's two languages

  • both working at the same time.

  • So we can use this new kind of language, if you like,

  • to alter our perspective or change our views.

  • Let me ask you a simple question

  • with a really simple answer:

  • Who has the biggest military budget?

  • It's got to be America, right?

  • Massive. 609 billion in 2008 --

  • 607, rather.