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Big Bang Data

Cen from our amazing design team, went to see Big Bang Data at Somerset House. Here’s what she thought of it:

 

Big Bang Data is an exciting title, and the advertising promised a major exhibition showcasing the data explosion of the 21st century and how it is transforming our lives. I couldn’t wait!

It’s easy to forget, but we are all producing masses of data on a daily basis. There’s the obvious stuff – actively engaging in Social Media and using the Internet.

But also passively – being recorded and tracked by our card payments, travel (oyster cards), and an endless CCTV network.

The exhibition is fascinating. It reminds us how data can be accessed and used in myriad ways. Even the “cloud” is visualised by showing images of massive installations where our data is actually stored by the companies we trust with it.

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Some of the exhibitions are really good – we looked back into the history of data with a world map of submarine communication cables, showing us how the world has become more connected over the years. We are also shown examples of cables from Telefonica dating all the way back to 1896. The modern Internet was created in the 1970s, but complex communications networks have existed for a long time.

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Further insights into our data universe included a history of storage – including punch cards, floppy disks, CDs and more.

One of the most interesting features was the Black Shoals: Dark Matter exhibit. A planetarium with thousands of stars, each represented by a company. Fed by live information from the world’s stock markets, the stars move and link up with each other providing a visual spectacle, reinterpreting how connected the financial market is.

But the piece that I was enraptured by was Stranger Visions – a deeply unsettling sequence of sculptured human faces. Nothing strange about the faces themselves, they were all regular people. But they’d been crafted from DNA that the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg collected from cigarettes butts and chewing gum from public places. Using computer software, she linked the genetic series with natural human traits to create 3D models of the faces from the people that discarded these objects. Incredibly clever, but also very creepy.

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Data is produced in so many day to day actions that in 2012 it was estimated that 2.5 quintillion (2,500,000,000,000,000,000) bytes of data were created every day. Imagine how many floppy disks you’d need to store all that!

From a design perspective, the idea of the exhibition was brilliant but I wasn’t convinced it pushed the boundaries as much as it could. There’s always a balance to be found between design and information, but this is such a great topic I thought it was a shame the ideas didn’t go further. But don’t let that stop you, it’s definitely worth seeing as it provokes thought and challenges your perceptions.

Big Bang Data: Somerset House – 03 Dec 2015 — 20 Mar 2016