We’ve never had as much data captured about our lives as we have had today. Privacy and data protection continue to remain high on the political and social agenda, and like any topical subject, there are always two sides to the coin. I have yet to completely make up my mind on the subject, but exhibitions like, ‘Our Lives in Data’ at the Science Museum gave me some positive food for thought.
Yesterday was the last day of the exhibition, so I scampered down to South Ken to have a last glimpse and wander. The exhibition shone a light on data inspiring and informing product design, breakthroughs in medicine to planning better public transport. I picked out two data pieces that made my eyes light up: data that inspired fashion and informed medical innovation.
‘Dress For Our Time’ is a beautiful piece that brings fashion and data together to highlight the scale of displaced people around the world. Helen Storey used the power of fashion to create a dress made out of a decommissioned tent that once housed a refugee family in Jordan. The piece of art uses the latest data from the United High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to map the journeys of people fleeing persecution or conflict. Each pixel of light that runs up the dress represents 100 human lives- paving their voyage from war to refuge. The structure is a truly stunning and emotive piece, using data in a completely unconventional way.
And to ponder on how data shapes medical research… Would you give your DNA data to help others? Would you share DNA with a pharmaceutical company if it meant being able to produce cheaper medicine? Your DNA is the most personal data you own. This is why scientists are on the one hand concerned, and on the other, excited about the medical doors being unlocked by the DNA data key. Lives, like Jessica featured in the exhibition, have been transformed by analysing DNA data, from unknown conditions being diagnosed and treated to earlier detection of hereditary diseases. Data is helping create medical magic.
I have always loved a data point, but I have never felt completely inspired by data until now. In the words of Helen Storey, ‘Numbers mean nothing if they don’t affect your heart’.