Information Design Gone Wild

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
— from Ariel’s Song, The Tempest by William Shakespeare

I loved the almost anal-retentive display of data through a heads-up display about the scenery and other details in the opening scenes of the movie ‘Stranger than Fiction‘:

Now, imagine that kind of data display about everything; The chemicals in the soil around you, the wavelengths of light as they strike your skin, the building materials of the structures you walk by; all are a sea of data that is not so much invisible as it is inaccessible. Now imagine, if you had a heads-up display on your glasses (or on contact lenses, as is suggested in Vernor Vinge’s Novel Rainbow’s End). If you are ‘wearing’ as Vinge calls it, you now have the possibility of superimposing all sorts of data on top of the reality you see around you. In fact, if you prefer, you can replace that reality with one as rich and strange as you like.

Rather than a real place, what if this were done with, say, a Fairy Tale. Tomas Nilsson, a design student at Sweden’s Linköping University, decided to do just this with the Little Red Riding Hood story, which started out as a class project:

As computing and access to data becomes more ubiquitous, I think this will start to change our view of reality. It’s a subtle thing, but the fact that many people now carry some sort of device (either a smart phone or a portable GPS device), so they are never truly lost. That’s a big change of their reality, right from the start.

The other evening, my iPhone had some problems, so I headed home to try and fix it (I did, the software needed to be reinstalled). The ride on the bus felt very strange without being able to listen to podcasts or music. I couldn’t check the time. I couldn’t call anyone, or check my email. It wasn’t until then did I realize how much I rely on this little brick of metal and glass.

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