Skip to main content

Social Networks as a Humanist Way of Visualization

The 911 memorial has two water pools surrounded by visualizations of the names of those people who died in the terrorist attackson September 11, 2001. Unlike the traditional way of listing people’s name alphabetically, it has a unique way of arranging people names. There are two major sources of information that were used to create this visualization: 1) where the person was located (e.g., Flight 11, WTC north, or pentagon, and so on) when he/she died in the event, 2) the social group these people belonged to, such as company affiliations and the subgroups they were in, their occupation, and their location in the World Trade Center buildings, and 2) the “closeness” between any pair of names based on the requests of their close relatives and friends. Two names could be arranged together if they were family members or close friends with each other, or if they interact with each other frequently in daily work or if they met and helped each other during the disastrous event on that day, as long as someone sent a request for them. Special algorithms were then designed to calculate cliques or subgroup of these people and to determine the arrangement of and the distances among the names. The visualization was then created and carved into the bronze parapets.

I really liked the idea of incorporating social networks into the visualization of victims’ names, which strikes me because of its humanist nature in respecting life of each human being. Each name was not a simple, cold symbol any more. By looking at the visualization, you can see each name as a vivid person and see part of his or her life by looking into how they interacted with others, who were whose co-workers, and who they were close with when they were alive. I think this visualization is one step further than simply listing all the names of those who died in an event in terms of treating each human being as a life with dignity.

Of course this visualization is by no means fully accurate since not everyone’s interaction and relationship with others were reported or requested by their friends and relatives, and it is also possible that some of the requested associationsmight be inaccurate. Moreover, this visualization probably made it more difficult for people to find a particular name since they were not alphabetically ordered, especially if the visitor was a stranger and did not know the underlying social network of these victims. However, it is the practice of putting “the names of family, friends, and colleagues to be together, as they lived and died” and the idea of respect each person as a social entity that makes this visualization a unique one.


Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

October 2011
« Sep   Nov »