Monday, August 10, 2009


after being a teacher for several years i've had to grapple with packing vast collections of information in compact and easily graspable units. understanding complex ideas starts from bits and pieces, but once you've gone beyond the basis it is incredibly difficult to return to the basics. although my previous profession is infested with individuals who believe that the more complex you sound, the smarter you appear, i never felt at ease amongst them. abstract theory is difficult enough, even when explained with clarity, and needs as little additional jargon magic as possible. in fact therein lies a major part of the difficulty: how to expound intricate concoctions clearly. let's say i failed more often than i succeeded.

after school our primary source of information is the news. the tortuous realities of everyday life hardly frustrate less than abstract reasoning. the evolution of newsbroadcasting favors glimpses and brief details – what else could you expect from a mere ten minute tv show covering all important current global events. even the 30 minute news coverage of my childhood where every story took several minutes to unfold is a fading memory. the kaleidoscopic reality portrayed in the repetitive slogan-like storytelling of modern television news creates more of a chaotic and scattered idea of current events than seems necessary. the coverage hardly ever comes full-bodied with background and contesting interpretations; the always relevant political biases of newshouses are visible only in the selection of headlines and their wording because there just really isn't much to call 'content' anymore.

in search of depth there is the possibility offered by quality magazines and online newspapers. although adding favorites and other selection tools help, they also limit the type of information that comes our way. my background provides the necessary instruments for picking out obvious faults and relevant texts that help me in avoiding and ignoring mumbo jumbo – definitely a set neither available to everyone nor something many people value. despite this advantage, i still feel like i'm failing at keeping up with what is up in the world.

quality teaching, journalism and news reporting all share the same elements: cohesion, clarity and profundity. without a vast amount of preknowledge it is impossible to collect the essentials and regroup the tokens into a cohesive and informative package. thus, it seems obvious that in order attain profound results a teacher, journalist or reporter must hold tremendous amounts of info in addition to being able to sort the entire mess out.

the facile method is to choose a viewpoint and follow the path created by one stance. more than often the selection process becomes narrower and almost inevitably leads to a bias of some sort. it seems that to attain necessary depth for one point of view we need to pick sides. the method, nonetheless, fails in a world where multiple standpoints should be accounted for in order to attain any sort of clarity. another question altogether is the having the capability and the will to acknowledge different stances.

surely it need not be as grave as the above may sound. bias is unavoidable and somewhat necessary; life becomes much easier to handle when we realize that such a thing as true objectivity does not exist. but these postmodern fragmented realities need stories – albeit not the grand ones – and good old storytelling. we still need neat packaging and people who take the time to acquire info and stuffit for us.

while we become less auditory and more visual (anybody still listen to the radio for news?), new tools for representing complex phenomena are always welcome. while timelines and graphs are informative additions to information distribution, they always lack in representation. hence, i salute designer/animator jonathan jarvis and his new venture called the new mediators. his aim is to demystify without losing the true complicatedness of the issue he is explaining. with simple tools and temporal diagrams to provide in-depth relations he takes information graphics to the next level.

here's an example where jarvis explains the credit crisis:

obviously creating such pieces requires every bit of the understanding teaching or writing properly does – and possibly more. the time and effort needed limits the use for only a minuscule part of the baffling phenomena around us, but i do see potential here. therefore, i look forward to seeing jarvis' tools used by creative groups of researchers and journalists for exemplary information packages for the many intricate issues around us.

what phenomenon would you like to have explained?

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