Macroscopes and Visualization (again): a circular path

The Macroscope | Joël de Rosnay

Three years ago (almost), I discovered an interesting comment about the Places and Spaces: Mapping Science exhibition (2006 edition), curated  by Katy Börner (Indiana University, Director of the InfoVis Lab), and I found particularly interesting the quotation of John Thackara (author of In the Bubble: Designing for a complex world. 2005. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), talking about Macroscopes. In fact that metaphor is, in my opinion quite compelling if you want to talk about the quest for the ‘big picture’ (that actually is often our aim at DensityDesign).

So I investigated a bit and I found a previous book by our colleague (and friend of Thackara) Ezio Manzini (1989. The Materials of Invention: Materials and Design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press) where the concept of the macroscope is used: «The quality of the mental image, which is the point of departure for the problem setting, and the overall map of the possible, whence one can progressively derive more detailed maps upon which to trace the path of the problem solving, originate with the macroscope», and finally I went back to the book of Joël de Rosnay (…), where the author hope for new tools to face the complexity of the world: «Microscope, telescope: these words evoke the great scientific penetrations of the infinitely small and the infinitely great […] Today we are confronted with another infinite: the infinitely complex. We are confounded by the number and variety of elements, of relationships, of interactions and combinations on which the functions of large systems depend. We are only the cells, or the cogs; we are put off by the interdependence and the dynamism of the systems, which transform them at the very moment we study them. We must be able to understand them better in order to guide them better. […] Now a new tool is needed by all those who would try to understand and direct effectively their action in this world, whether they are responsible for major decisions in politics, in science, and in industry or are ordinary people as we are. I shall call this instrument the macroscope (from macro, great, and skopein, to observe).»

Then we started using the idea of macroscope in our presentations (TEDx Italy 2009 – 11:00 – and Better Software 2010) and in some of our papers (itAIS 2010).

Now is quite interesting and even more motivating to see on one of the very recent paper from Katy Börner (2011. Plug-and-Play Macroscopes. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 54(3), 60-69, ACM Press) the concept and the metaphor of macroscope taken (again) into consideration!

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