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Cognitive Broadband: When Visual Information Enhances Cognition

Posted Mar 24 2010 4:42pm
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It would be no surprise to the Max Wertheimer and the other Gestalt psychologists that visual displays can deliver complex information so effectively.  I think of it as “cognitive broadband.” Journalist LaToya Egwuekwe created a progressive data display of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) unemployment numbers that delivers a powerful message. (See “ The Decline: The Geography of a Recession ,”)  So powerful, in fact that it went viral from YouTube to CNN.  (The orginal site has  more impact than the YouTube version embedded below.)

Beyond the implications of the unemployment numbers, however staggering and moving, there is an underlying and very important message about education in the 21st Century.  I’m on board with all the STEM initiatives (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) but the missing ingredient in this push is synthesis.  As people either celebrate or lament, we have no shortage of data.  Finding out stuff is no longer a scarce resource.  Making sense of it all is.  The ability to think visually and spatially–not just linearly–is essential to understanding a world where facts are more plentiful than problems and where innovation is necessary for solutions and creating growth.  We are conditioned to accepting the process of education as the successful accumulation of facts.  Facts by themselves have no meaning until they are synthesized into a narrative. When was the last time a  BLS numbers release made it to YouTube?

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