The Volunteers, Part 2

For my final, I decided to work with the same data as I did for my midterm. This came after a lot of iterating over different ideas, starting with alcohol consumption tracking and moving to the toxicity of internet comments. I came back to this data in the end because people have told me each time that the individual stories are the most powerful component, and I wanted to use my final to develop a proof of concept of what a visualization would look like if things like photos and a bio were built in to the application itself.

The major design considerations pertained to scalability, and I’m honestly not sure I thought hard enough about this. Of course a design will work when the page only has to load 10 photos, but what happens when it has to load 7000? There’s power in the ability to show all that at once, but there would be a major hit to performance even with thumbnail-sized, low-quality photos. A next step might be to craft a pre-experience that users could run through while the photos were all loading in. This is all very hypothetical at this point, because it would likely take years of full-time work to collect all the assets needed to produce this project on a large scale.


I tried to keep the map in the background – I’m not sure this works, but at such a small scale it’s hard to know if it has the intended effect or not because it doesn’t look like a map yet.

The largest tech challenges I faced with this project related to CSS. I had weird positioning things happening with overlaying DOM elements over a canvas, and the fades were kind of weird. I managed to get them to fade out in a random order when you click on one (with the one clicked always been the last to fade with a bit more of a delay), and that took some time and mostly related to CSS. I also worked with an in-window pop-up to display information about the individual clicked, which involved some CSS shenanigans I had never used before.

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I have to be honest after now working with this data in a very data-centric way over the course of three projects: it’s not effective at getting at what I want. I want people to consider the cost of war from a human perspective, and human stories are the only way that I feel I’m ever going to do that. Even with this iteration, there would be something overwhelming about seeing 7000 photos and stories that would detract from what I want people to get out of it.

By contrast, my project for Hacking Story Frameworks this semester was an installation that followed one person’s military story from start to finish. This was the centerpiece, and the larger systemic and structural things were accessories to that – not the other way around, as it has always been with this data as a project’s center. I received extremely good feedback about this project, including the very direct notion that the installation and story represented the best way in to the issues central to my projects that I have executed at ITP.

It raises philosophical questions about the point of data in social issue projects if people are never going to find it as persuasive as one well-told story. Will data always be best in supporting roles in projects like this? I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m on the cusp of giving up on data-centric social projects if the goal is public engagement and awareness.

That said, this project could make a good museum exhibit if it were ever finished, in a context where it’s overwhelming effect is part of some larger space with other components that would pull out important individual narratives and make them more digestible.

Slavery Footprint + my very own JSON

I tried the Slavery Footprint experience. 26 slaves work for me according to their metrics. Here are my thoughts:

  • I never felt like I had the tools and information to totally answer some of the things they were asking. The diet portion asked me to recall far too much and make too many estimations about my diet so as to be practically useless in my case. The medicine cabinet part was a bit confusing.
  • I think they automatically disabled some of the things that are considered “lady only” based on my gender answer. This is arguably problematic, but it was also just weird seeing some already unchecked. The icons in this portion were a mixed bag as well – I could tell which was a razor, but had to stare for awhile to realize the palm trees represented sunscreen. The icon for aspirin seemed to stand in for all medications, and it seemed strange to me that this section had no way to refine the bathroom part more.
  • The closet part was annoying because everything defaulted to 50 and the sliders were small enough that they didn’t allow me to fine-tune easily.
  • The project measures how many slaves you have working for you, so there’s obviously going to be a bit of an accusatory tone to it. I think they do a very good job of making it inviting and judgement-free for the most part, but found myself chafing at the sex-for-pay portion because it becomes significantly more hamfisted in this regard.
  • I need to give them my email in order to see a detailed breakdown of my numbers. I would love to have that information, but I am guarded with my email address and don’t want to give it to them.

My JSON is a list of the warnings/cautions/dangers found in the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks/Warrior Skills Level 1 book. I’ve often wanted to do something with these – they represent the most extreme conditions and possibilities a soldier may face. I plan to create a project from this JSON later. It’s incomplete, because there were far more than I thought there would be, but it can be viewed here.

I also wanted to share a JSON I made last semester for this (not totally responsive) project. One of my intentions this semester is to improve upon this project, so I wanted to make sure it’s on your radar.