[ISEA2008] Roberta Buiani – Visualizing as Exorcism: Learning from Viruses


A growing phenomenon

The Web contains a great amount of pictures, simulations and other samples created thanks to the development of an increasingly variety of visualization technologies and methods. Among others, websites such as Visual complexity, (visualization of complex networks), companies such as ExVivo or 3D Science (scientific animation and medical imaging) or, finally, computer and security enterprises such as F-Secure (visualization of malware and information flows) witnesses the diversity of techniques and methods, as well as technological devices used.
Thanks to these technologies, very small and subatomic particles, as well as dynamic agents, could now be displayed, shared and analyzed among colleagues or in a website. Computer and biological viruses constitute two important examples. While information visualization is able to trace their trajectories and behaviors, scientific visualization is able to provide them a concrete form.
Is visualization exclusively about providing better accuracy and efficiency of data collection and analysis? The above technologies should be definitely welcomed as a step forward in understanding and disseminating phenomena that normally come in the form of data only or that had previously defied visualization. However, could they not rather be read as forms of exorcism to the “unknown” and against the [real or constructed] hegemony of “fear”?

Controlling the unknown

Virilio, quite explicitly, indicates how knowledge, in Western society, is perceived as the ultimate form of control. Knowing is the continuation and realization of the myth of the frontier, which he explodes beyond the boundaries of the humanly visible and the geographically defined territory of the physical. While reconfirming the centrality of sight as one of the major instruments of knowledge, the above comment establishes an indissoluble link between “not-knowing” and “fear”. If knowing is associated with control and mastery over the unknown then, not-knowing is connected with uncertainty and evokes a sense of uneasiness and anxiety. As Robins, citing Canetti, claims: “…fear of being touched by the unknown, this is the fear that never goes away. It is with this fear that we must come properly to terms”.

Roberta Buiani (Canada) Biography
York University

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