During the last years, the increasing availability of massive volumes of data in unprecedented numbers has opened new horizons in fields like scientific research, institutional governance, journalism and communication, or civic participation and activism. We need new methodologies and strategies to understand and make understandable these structures of information.
Medialab-Prado’s Visualizar program is a research and education platform devoted to exploring the culture of Big Data and its impact today in science, society and the arts.
Since its first edition in 2007 the program has gathered more than one hundred participants from all over the world who have developed projects explaining stories about phenomena like pollution levels and traffic flows within big cities, the use of social networks in political campaigns or the financing of cultural institutions.
Each Visualizar edition includes an intensive project development workshop, a conference, educational activities open to the public and the exhibition of the developed projects. Throughout the three first editions (Visualizar 07; Visualizar 08: Database City; Visualizar 09: Public Data, Data in Public), the program has featured reknowned specialists in the culture of data like Ben Fry, Aaron Koblin, Stamen, Fernanda Viegas, Adam Greenfield, Bestiario, Adrian Holovaty, Sunlight Foundation, Mark Hansen or Manuel Lima among others.
The next edition of Visualizar in 2011 will deal with an essential topic: infrastructures. Infrastructures are the big systems that support global processes: from the infrastructures that produce and transfer energy and water to the ones that make possible global communication and mobility. From the supply chain of goods and products to the removal chain, but also legal infrastructures that define relations among territories or the financial infrastructures that govern the circulation of capital among markets.
In order to understand our place withinn these big scale processes, we need to represent more and more how these systems operate, and what is the role of our actions within them.
> Video of the presentation of Visualizar'11, with José Luis de Vicente. January 31, 2011
By infrastructure, one refers to every aspect of the technology of rational administration that routinizes life, action, and property within larger (ultimately global) organizations.Today, infrastructure can be argued to own a little part of everything.
"Infrastructure, at the very least, is the systematic expression of capital, of deregulated currency, of interest rates, credit instruments, trade treaties, market forces, and the institutions that enforce them; it is water, fuel, and electrical reservoirs, routes and rates of supply; it is demographic mutations and migrations, satellite networks and lotteries, logistics and supply coefficients, traffic computers, airports and distribution hubs..." Sanford Kwinter, Daniela Fabricius “Urbanism: An Archivist’s Art?”. En Rem Koolhas, Mutations.
"More and more of technology infiltrates every aspect of our lives. It’s become a life support system withouth wich we can’t survive. And yet, how much of it do we understand? Do I bother myself with the reality of what happens when I get into a big steel box, press a bottom and rise into the sky? Of course I don’t. I take going up the world like that for granted, we all do. And ss the years of the XX century have gone by the things we take for granted have multiplied way beyond the ability of any individual to understand in a lifetime. The things around us, the man-made inventions we’ve provided ourselves with, are like a vast network, each part of which is interdependent with all the others. (...) All the things in that network has becomed so specialized that only the people involved in making them understand them." James Burke, “The Trigger Effect” (Connections, chapter 1).
Let’s have a look at any object around us. For it to reach our hands, it has been necessary to exploit natural resources, submit it to complex manufacturing processes, distribute it through worldwide supply networks and validate it through international agreements and regulations of all kind. A big amount of our everyday acts -turn on the light, open a tap or take out the garbage- are not isolated events, but form part of a major system, altough we often ignore its scale and rarely have the chance to observe it as a whole. When we use a last generation smartphone in the middle of the street to look for the address of a restaurant, we are not only using the plastic and metal piece that we have in our hands but also activating a vast network that covers thousand of kilometres, formed by satellites in orbit, antennas set up in roofs and data centres that store information in anonymous locations.
Infrastractures are the support system of global society. Physical infrastructures (electric networks, pipelines, reservoirs) but also information (radio broadcasting, underwater cables) transport (sea routes, aerial routes) as well as legal and financial infrastructures that rule international trade and markets, as well as the hidden but active infrastractures that control the networks of drugs distribution or illegal immigration.
If we could contemplate the superposition of all of these infrastructures we could obtain an approximate representation of how a contemporary society works. Nevertheless, as citizens, we are often only conscious of those elements we are related with. Our field of action is determined by the rules that determine how these systems operate, and their functional limits How could we be conscious of them in order to understand them better?
Visualizar'11: Understanding Infrastructures invites everyone interested in exploring these questions to present projects that will investigate, analyze and represent through data the running of infrastractures and global systems, such as:
1. Energy infrastructures. power grids, gas and oil distribution networks, renewable energy production networks…
2. Transport infrastructures. Aerial and sea routes, road and rail networks, urban mobility networks…
3. Information infrastructures. Radio and TV broadcasting, data networks, communications satellites, underwater cables, wireless urban networks, terrestrial and mobile telephony.
4. Supply chain infrastracture. Processes and systems of the agro-alimentary production, goods and products distribution networks…
5. Removal Chain. Waste collection systems, treatment plants, recycling processes…
6. Economy and financial infrastructures. Banks, trade zones, processes and agents of the financial markets…
7. Legal infrastructures. International agreements, regulation bodies, territory regulation plans…
The activity is over.