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Thursday, September 4, 2014
Ambiguity vs Information Overload
Does this look familiar? Audrey Zhang won the annual Doodle 4 Google competition with "The Transformative Water Purifier". Google used her artwork in video format for their June 9 2014 doodle. I've been unable to find Google's video file.
So what's going on here?
A machine rather like a winged elephant--comprising the letters o o g --sucks contaminated water from a pool and converts it into a fountain of clean water springing from the G. A variety of imaginary animals--and maybe plants--look on with approval. Others--still oblivious to the impact to their environment--continue doing their own thing.
The Huffington Post (Mazza article)
The Christian Science Monitor (Axelrad article)
I studied Zhang's animated doodle* several times that day but I could make little of it. I believe the wealth of detail and the incessant movement defeated me. On the other hand, I never gave Audrey Zhang's work a chance. I was "distracted by work"** and so never gave Zhang's Transformative Water Purifier the attention it deserved. I didn't really study it in an active sense. Nor did I invest sufficient time to passively absorb the rich visual data. Mostly I checked Google's page to see if Zhang's doodle was still there.
Our brains may be more versatile and better at multi-tasking than a Swiss Army Knife but they still have limits when it comes to processing complex data--especially data that's constantly changing. Especially if we don't give our brains a chance to take in all the information.
Near the end of the day I looked for an actual description of Andrey Zhang's work. I wanted to get that settled, the better to concentrate on what I was doing. I read descriptions similar to the one I wrote at the beginning of this article, and then returned to Zhang's doodle but the narrative descriptions didn't help me as much as I had expected.
The combination of movement and detail gifted my brain with more than it could process--at least on a conscious level. But how much could I absorb when all I did was glance at the page from time to time? Multiple brief exposures to Zhang's artwork could not begin to provide the information available to anyone who stayed on the page and allowed themselves time to patiently passively absorb details.
(Much as I'm loathe to admit it, I suspect the older we are the more difficult it is to efficiently process such an abundance of detail in a limited time.)
* Doodle? Talk about "Damning with faint praise."
** I can safely say that these days--being in my second career. ;-p