Data: An Abridged History


Put your finger down on this paragraph and pause for a moment to look around you. There are concrete facts everywhere you look. You’ve touched one paragraph today. The dishwasher has been running for eight minutes. You have six pairs of clean underwear in the drawer.

These concrete facts are data. They lack assumptions or conclusions; they are simply things that you can observe and measure. Visualizing data can help you build information and draw knowledge from facts that may, on the surface, seem innocuous.

The things around you right now might not seem like they need visualization. They’re fairly straightforward. But put them in context. Your dishwasher running for eight minutes means that there are still 12 minutes left in its rinse cycle, and then 10 in its dry cycle. You have guests arriving in 15 minutes, which means you’ll need to spend seven minutes distracting them from the lack of wine glasses available. Adding more data creates more room for interpretation and finding meaning.

An even more visualization-friendly example: you’re a gardener. You need to keep track of planting times, soil and water needs, pH levels, fertilization times, etc. You could certainly keep this data in your head, or spill it into a notebook as one long list. But a chart with each plant as the row and each of those points of data listed above as a column seems like an obvious solution to get to the meaning of: “What do I need to do in the garden today?”

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