A few weeks ago, we wrote about how recent research has clocked the human brain at 13 milliseconds. That’s the amount of time it takes for the eyes to take in an image and the brain to decode it into something meaningful.

A long time ago, we wrote about how higher functions operate in that same time frame- all under a second.

Well, that got us thinking about something pretty important: the whole point of what we do around here at VisualCue. What is our approach to technology and why did we choose to focus on data visualization in the first place?

And it all comes down to this- we are creating a new language for data. And changing your language can change how you look at the world.

Don’t we already have one?

We’re not talking about programming languages, there are plenty of those. SQL, R, whatever your preference is. They were developed by very talented individuals and we have no designs on replacing those.

The language that we are developing is one that is designed to change the way you interact with the information.

That should lead you to another question- don’t we already have numerous ways to understand data that have been around since the 1770s? You would be right. The language of data right now is spreadsheets/database rows and columns and the graphs/pie charts/scatterplots/trend lines that emanate therefrom.

But there’s a problem- that language is old. Very old. The world of data is changing and if the language doesn’t change with it then it loses all of its efficacy- it ceases to be an effective way to communicate. That’s why we have so many dead languages out there in the world.

Spreadsheets and graphs are a dead data language.

Linguistic Relativity

It would be like trying to conduct modern business in latin- it just doesn’t work. The languages that change and evolve with the times are the ones that stick around.

And when languages change, amazing things happen.

This isn’t some new fact that we’ve just made up- it’s a real thing. The theory is called linguistic relativity and Sven Ove Hansson, writing for the journal Theoria in 2014, describes it as “the idea that dissimilarities between languages lead to differences in thought patterns.”

It’s a pretty fascinating idea that has been batted about between linguists, anthropologists and scientists for a long time. In his book Linguistic Relativities, author John Leavitt traces the origin of the idea that the way you speak affects the way you see the world back to medieval times, through the Renaissance and into the Enlightenment with well-known thinkers like John Locke and René Descartes weighing in.

But we, as a thinking people, have agreed on this much- the way you speak has a profound relationship with the way you think about things.

So what does all this history and linguistics have to do with data visualization? Everything!

What is data visualization but a language, a way to communicate? If the way we communicate impacts the way we think then surely the way we understand data changes based on how it’s communicated.

If you ask any member of the VisualCrew what we’re passionate about, we’ll all say data visualization. We’re passionate and we care so much because we don’t want modern data to be communicated with dead, confusing languages. We’d rather provide a language for data that everyone can speak- that’s why we use intuitive icons and recognizable color schemes that are universally understood.

It’s time that modern data had a modern language to go with it.

Until next time,

The VisualCrew