Topic 4: Visual Literacy . . . I’m not an expert, but I have questions . . .

Visual Literacy

Boy has it been a while.  A young family and full-time work certainly has its ups and downs.  I have been thinking a long time about the visual literacy section of my Metaliteracy MOOC.  I will be the first to admit that I have a long way to go on being visually literate myself, at least according to the ‘ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.’  I read all the materials for the section, listened to/watched all the presentations.  I liked Brian Stone’s presentation.  He is doing some really great stuff.  But what gave me pause was David McCandless’ TED talk about the beauty of data.  His talk was interesting but at the end of it I kept asking myself, ‘But what has he left out of these infographics he has created?’  ‘For the sake of getting across a particular point with the data he does have/presents, what don’t we know?’  I even interlibrary loaned David’s book just to see some more of his work.

Now, I know I should dig really deep and long in order to truly answer these questions.  But I’m not going to.  Really, by asking these questions I just want to caution anyone looking at such infographics, or any type of information.  One should always be questioning the validity of the information being presented to you.  One should always make sure their facts and data are accurate and correct and always be aware of any agendas a presenter has when presenting information to you, whether it is online, in a book, in a journal article, anywhere really.  For example, I took the transcript of David’s TED talk and searched it to see how often particular words were used just to see what kind of data I would get.  My choice of words was pretty random, I could have excluded some, included others, but here is what I got: 

Well, actually I would have shown a graph of what I got but I am an extreme novice at some things and could not figure out how to paste an Excel graph into this post.  (Gee I wish I had an infographic!)  But on that front I am currently illiterate.  The most used word in David’s talk was ‘I’ fifty-five times.    The second most used word, not surprisingly, was ‘data.’  Third, also not surprising, was ‘information’.  Now, I understand that David was talking about his work and what he had done but I did not expect ‘I’ to be the most used word in the talk.  These results prompt me to ask: ‘What was David’s agenda in doing this talk?  Promoting himself or the work?’  Yes, the talk was interesting, but I remain reticent about infographics in general.  For as my cousin said recently: ‘All information on the internet has an agenda.’  Really, all information has an agenda.  Clearly David McCandless is trying to convey certain information in his work.  I’m just not sure what even some of that is.  It should be interesting to see what kind of work he does in the future.  And maybe some time in that future I will also learn how to create some infographics of my own. ;P