Experiencing the digital through the analog.

| September 10, 2010

James Bridle’s publication of a 12 volume set chronicling every edit made on the Iraq War Wikipedia entry has been making the rounds this week. I was moved by this project not only for the author’s intent but for what it symbolizes about how data and facts exist in our online lives. Bridle positions the project as a work of Historiography, writing:

This is historiography. This is what culture actually looks like: a process of argument, of dissenting and accreting opinion, of gradual and not always correct codification.

This point alone makes this one of the more powerful pieces of any type of work I have seen recently. As a student of history I am always drawn to the process of creating history and the ways in which cultures affect not only those histories but also the creation of those histories. What truly struck me about this work, however, is the simple fact that it takes 12 volumes to represent all this data and all this human work.

As media consumers we hear large numbers all the time, especially in relation to the Internet and its usage, and can often be shocked by those numbers. There is something about seeing this information in print that transforms that shock into something real and physical. Books and print may be waning but their power to still represent something of substance is very real. These 12 volumes, in once glance, reveal to us the effort and passion of countless humans working to represent, or mis-represent, our recent history. No simple line of text describing the same data set would have the same power. This is a beautiful sort of data visualization, revealing a truth that would not otherwise be apparent.