tl;dr and visualization abuse

A picture (visual) is worth a thousand words when it is a photograph of the real world. Even in this case, an accompanying narrative can provide valuable context. It is sloppy to try to make sense of something without its context. When the picture (visual) in question is a mere illustration or graphic, the accompanying narrative becomes even more important. And yet, I see a trend of trying to make sense of the visual without providing, asking for or reading the narrative:
  •  Archiving presentation slide decks in document repositories without a supporting narrative.
  • Demanding all sorts of reports in the form of presentations rather than the more traditional form of a document. Tradition makes sense sometimes.  
  • Graphing all manner of metrics without any narrative that provides a context for the measurements.
 Well argued supporting narratives are passé. I suspect this is an example of the Shallows effect. It has become fashionable to say tl;dr. Instead of introspecting if I have lost the ability to focus, I lull myself into believing that I have just run into a wall of text - a newly minted pejorative for what used to be known more honourably until recent times as a page of text. As a result, content creators fear that if their text is any longer than a tweet, it won’t be read. They have to make it interesting with visual effects.

Instead of admitting my newly gained inability to parse a carefully constructed paragraph or argument full of nuances, I smugly proclaim myself a visual thinker. This is not to say visual thinkers don’t exist, just that the rate at which they seem to be proliferating is a little suspicious.

One kind of visual targets the recipient’s analytical faculty. Another kind targets their aesthetic faculty. Aesthetics are in vogue among consumer devices. I suspect this has spilt over to the kind of visuals favoured by us. So we encounter graphs where a table would do, a 3-D visual where 2-D would do and only a visual where a paragraph is called for. The visual is no longer just a means to tap into the pattern recognizing, parallel processing prowess of the analytical brain, rather it is meant to catch the eye and increasingly, only the latter.

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