As the importance of data in our world has increased, people’s perception too has changed. 20 years ago, data meant nothing to people, not even those who have played a huge part in its growth. It has been widely reported that Bill Gates said of the amount of memory a computer would need '640K ought to be enough for anyone'. However, this is the man who is responsible for the huge uptake in the number of computers around the world and perhaps the single most important person when it comes to the amount of data created by society today.
As we have seen the amount of data increase, data visualization has become a central part of how most people live their lives. No longer is it something that you only see in a boardroom, it is now something that has become embedded into everybody's consciousness. Understanding anything from the amount of fuel consumed by a vehicle, through to the performance of their favorite sports teams has been expressed through visualization.
Indeed, the development of data visualization is, arguably, the most important data development of the past 2 decades. Seeing a list of numbers on a spreadsheet is not going to be an effective way of spotting anomalies, patterns or associations within data, without which many of the most important discoveries ever would never have been found. For instance, if you watch the documentary 'Particle Fever', which documents the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, it is found through the visualized data initially before being confirmed with more detailed analysis of the data itself.
Its importance is not only in scientific and business terms, we have even seen art exhibitions being created around data visualizations. For instance, Big Bang Data at Somerset House in London, On Broadway in New York and Chicago: City of Big Data have all been critically acclaimed data visualization focussed exhibitions over the past 2 years. It is not even just in the use of screen-based visualizations, with artists like Loren Madsen gaining international fame from the creation of sculptures that visualize data.
We are also seeing more and more polarization and questionable coverage of events due to the increased use of social media to both create and consume media. It has led to many people trying to find truths amongst the hyperbole and logic twisted to a particular viewpoint, which is only really possible through data. As this kind of investigative work is normally undertaken by non-data scientists, data visualizations are one of the only ways to accurately see this. We can see from recent examples that a lack of data to analyze can even be a huge hinderance to people's goals, with Donald Trump's unwillingness to release his tax returns and the lack of data surrounding Brexit causing significant anger in both the US and Europe over the past 12 months.
Data visualization has become an essential part of the world we live in. As the amount of data we can consume has increased, the number of potential sources of this information has increased alongside it. There are around 1.1 billion websites at the moment, with nearly as many different perspectives and opinions on subjects and data visualization is the only real way that people can attempt to cut through these and look at the huge amount of real data available to them.