Materials of the Data Map

Materials of the Data Map

Brian Evans (The University of Alabama, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jcicg.2011010102
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Abstract

Data mapping is the essence of being human. This report follows the process of data mapping; the transmission of a structured utterance from one domain to another. It starts with signals in the world and moves through experience and engagement with the world through those signals. The paper develops descriptions of the materials and mechanisms of data mapping. The descriptions are aids and conveniences in the effort to understand the systemic workings of the process of communication. From a systems perspective one might find points of leverage in their own involvement with the processes of communication and data mapping. Recognizing these leverage points can help in activities of art making, information design and in simply living.
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Data Mapping

Being human is data mapping and information processing—processes both basic and complex. Data mapping does two things to a signal.

  • 1.

    A data map abstracts the signal. This abstraction accommodates mediation, fitting the format of the medium that will carry the signal.

  • 2.

    Abstraction reduces the content of the signal and reduces the amount of data carried in the signal, facilitating its transference and possibly its eventual comprehension when received further along the signal path.

Each medium is itself mediated, again abstracting and reducing a signal. Sound for example starts as a vibrating object. Vibrations are transduced into changing pressure moving through the medium of air. That energy is transduced again into the tension of the eardrum, carried as mechanical energy by the ossicles of the inner ear, which is mediated through the cochlear fluid into the complexities of the auditory nerve and the brain. Often signals are abstracted into many maps in parallel, which we then receive synchronously—hearing and seeing for example. A signal that is simultaneously seen and heard (perhaps also felt and smelt) is a common example and a daily experience for all of us. By the time we receive signals from the world we are far removed from the source of the transmissions. All we receive are shadows, abstractions, maps of data being sent across the distances between us and the real we are immersed in. The signal loss over these distances is immense, yet miraculously communication still occurs.

To begin this excursion some informal definitions will help. What follows are some lists, some charts, some conveniences that are themselves maps of how we wade in the ebb and flow of the ocean of information surrounding us. Processing this information is the essence of being alive.

The Information Food Chain

The terms data, information and knowledge are often used erroneously as synonyms. Their use in this paper has them situated in a dependent relationship similar to organisms on a food chain (Figure 1). The discussion begins at the base of the chain where no signal exists. Here there is unfocused energy and the promise of a signal—noise.

Figure 1.

The information food chain. New knowledge can change the context for data, thus changing the information, thus creating new knowledge (an ongoing feedback loop).

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