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Time/Data/Visualisation

Time/Data/Visualisation

Time Symposium

As part of the Royal College of Art School of Design’s contribution to the Research Methods Course, we have organised a symposium dedicated to Time and Design. It takes place on the 19th of March, 10:00. If you are from outside the RCA and plan to attend, please email design-research@rca.ac.uk to let us know. Entrance is from Jay Mews.

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Time is the universal metric, a context for every object, life, event, alteration – but how do we design with time? What should time look like, how do we perceive it and how does it feed into how we live, act and remember? The symposium will set out historical, conceptual and cognitive problems that beset thinking about time, featuring the following speakers from the areas of psychology, history, engineering and design:

Claudia Hammond is an award-winning broadcaster, writer and psychology lecturer and the presenter of All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4, as well as programmes on BBC World Service and BBC World News TV. She is the author of the book “Time Warped” in which she delves into the mysteries of time perception. In her talk she shows how malleable our experience of time is and which factors influence how we perceive time.

Siân Lindley is part of the Socio-Digital Systems group at Microsoft Research, where she studies technologies in use and the practices that are built up around them. Siân presents two of her projects on using digital timelines for narrating personal histories, which yield unexpected insights into how representations of time shape our retelling of the past.

Matthew Shaw’s research in the history of the French Revolution, which he developed from his PhD into a major book, sheds light on perhaps one of the boldest reforms undertaken in Revolutionary France: the redesign of time itself. For almost a decade the French calendar had not only its own months and years but also decimalised hours and minutes.

John Taylor’s most ubiquitous invention has probably been used by anyone who ever switched on a kettle. However, it is his work on clocks that most captivates him. Turned inside out and controlled by a giant time-devouring mechanical creature, John’s Corpus clock required two hundred engineers, scientists and craftsmen, five years of his time, one million pounds and one Stephen Hawking for its unveiling on the wall of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University.

Peter Bennett introduces physicality in how we interact with computers through his research on Tangible Interfaces at the Bristol Interaction & Graphics Lab. A physical interface for time however proved to be problematic. Is time flexible or solid? Is time a single object or many? Is time a line, circle, spiral or even a shape at all? It is this ambiguous nature of how time can be physically represented and controlled that Peter explores in his work.

Challenges for Time as Digital Data

I have recently been invited to present my research at the Herrenhausen Conference on Digital Humanities. The Volkswagen Foundation, who organised the event, offered travel grants for young researchers to present their research topic in a short talk and a poster. Instead of presenting my research as a whole (which we PhD students have to do over and over again), I chose to talk only about an aspect of it: the problem of representing time digitally.

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Read on for the paper on which my talk was based. I presented it, along with this poster, at the Herrenhausen Conference: “(Digital) Humanities Revisited — Challenges and Opportunitiesin the Digital Age” at the Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover/Germany, December 5-7, 2013.

In digital humanities, there usually is a gap between digitally stored data and the collected data. The gap is due to the (structural) changes that data needs to undergo in order to be stored within a digital structure. This gap may be small, in the case of natively digital data such as a message on Twitter: a tweet can be stored close to its ‘original’ format, but it still looses a lot of its frame of reference (the potential audience at a specific point in time, the actual audience, the potential triggers of the message etc.). In digital humanities this distance may become so large that some researchers argue, the term data should be largely abandoned and replaced with capta. Capta, the taken, in contrast to data, the given, should emphasise the interpretative and observer dependent nature of data in the humanities [1]. This problem relates to all kinds of data, whether categorical, quantitative, spatial or temporal. I will however focus only on the last type. Time and temporal expressions are particularly susceptible to multiple modes of interpretation and (unintended) modifications due to limitations in digital data structures, but also due to the ambiguous and subjective nature of time itself.

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[1] Johanna Drucker, Humanities approaches to graphical display, 2011