Life, the Universe and Everything (not necessarily in that order)

In todays world the amount of data we have and the ease at which we can access it is greater than ever before. Data can come in many forms as well as how we analyze and store it. It can also be trivial, distorted, fragmented or next to useless in any practical sense. But overall data is absolutely necessary for our continued existence, literally.

Data is necessary for life; without DNA and RNA, our cells would not be able to construct the proteins necessary for our continued existence. As evolution continued, we developed brains capable of storing and processing information necessary to keep our bodies functioning and allowing us to survive. More time passes we eventually developed the ability to speak and create sophisticated languages, which has allowed for easier transference of information between individuals. Moving away from biological and physiological developments, we can find accounts of humans using physical mediums such as the Lascaux cave paintings or the ishango bone (a bone that contains tally marks on it which is over 20 000 years old), which are some of the first physical recordings we have found from human history. Alphabets and written word eventually come about (the Babylonian cuneiform is estimated to be from about 3000 B.C.E) and with them we can now pass on our ideas and stories with less change in the details. There are many other developments such as calendars, star charts, computers, and sensory tools that have been essential for humans to reach this stage of our collective history, but there is not enough space to cover them all.

Not only were we coming up with new forms of data and methods of storing it, we were coming up with new ways of analyzing it as well. Arts, arithmetic’s, languages, and other methods have continued to develop becoming more precise and complicated. The development of classification systems, statistics, formulas, etc. have helped us go beyond just gathering data, but also detecting connections and patterns within the raw data. This allows us to pass on more complex or larger quantities of data with greater ease. Like if a specialist of some field were to show a friend a page full of numbers and said that this indicated X; the friend (unless also in that field) would probably look at it as a first year medieval histories major might look at a calculus III integration problem (which might actually be the case). But if they were to put these numbers into a chart of a suitable format, the data can be better visualized and have a greater chance of being understood by the friend.

 

With greater advances in technology and methodology, we have massive quantities of data being created/discovered at a very rapid pace; so our need for finding better ways of representing it are becoming increasingly important. One of the issues we have discussed in class throughout Darwin, How to picture the size of the universe and radiolab, has been how to shown the difficulty of perceiving the scale of vast space and time. Hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the ramp at the Hayden Planetarium, which represents the history of the universe, helps represent the problem where the width of a human hair out of one hundred yards shows how small human history is compared to that of the entire universe. Traditionally it would be impractical (if not impossible) to have a timeline to scale, displaying the history of everything on it, especially since a very large portion of the data we have is from a relatively small slice of all time.

This is where chronozoom becomes a very interesting tool, even in its beta form. With modern computers, an international team has been able to create this new form of timeline, and not have to give up any information in making it to scale that one would have to do with a traditional timeline. An interesting aspect about chronozoom is how simple its components are. It still uses many of the mediums of representing data that we commonly use, written text, videos, pictures, etc. The only really new feature that makes it different than something like Google or a museum is its use of zoom. With it one can see the history of the cosmos, or zoom into a specific year during Sir Isaac Newton’s life. If you are like me at all, you may have idled away too much time starting at recent year, and allowing it to zoom out all the way to the cosmos. I say idle away but this was one of the features that Walter Alvarez, one of the original creators of the project, says he has enjoyed most about the program. It is almost like gazing out at the stars and realizing how small we are.

I’ll wrap up this summary now, but here are a few of the questions that I have thought of why’ll playing around with chronozoom: Does this have the potential to become as large as Google or Wikipedia? Will this be an effective way for showing people how the scale of historical events compares to the big picture (more specifically time wise)? How much do you think this method of using combined media has become a norm? How much collective time will be wasted just playing with the zoom function?

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