Discovering the Language of Data: Personal Pattern Languages and the Social Construction of Meaning from Big Data

Paper by ; ; in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews: “This paper attempts to address two issues relevant to the sense-making of Big Data. First, it presents a case study for how a large dataset can be transformed into both a visual language and, in effect, a ‘text’ that can be read and interpreted by human beings. The case study comes from direct observation of graduate students at the IIT Institute of Design who investigated task-switching behaviours, as documented by productivity software on a single user’s laptop and a smart phone. Through a series of experiments with the resulting dataset, the team effects a transformation of that data into a catalogue of visual primitives — a kind of iconic alphabet — that allow others to ‘read’ the data as a corpus and, more provocatively, suggest the formation of a personal pattern language. Second, this paper offers a model for human-technical collaboration in the sense-making of data, as demonstrated by this and other teams in the class. Current sense-making models tend to be data- and technology-centric, and increasingly presume data visualization as a primary point of entry of humans into Big Data systems. This alternative model proposes that meaningful interpretation of data emerges from a more elaborate interplay between algorithms, data and human beings….(More)”