Databases and Interactivity

A Database, is a way that information can be visualised. The information, which can call data can be separated by commas, in a list format or divided up into columns and rows.

This post looks directly at this technique where data can be broken down into units and stored- essentially by modularising the information. This means that the visual representation of data is crucial when you consider that the database form in new media (web sites, applications, video games, physical, digital installations) where the old narrative method is being replaced. This in turn, means that the user has a choice in new media and interactivity which enables them to view the media in any order they choose which is obviously different from your old media (linear) such as books, television and so forth.

Everything you see in the new media world (screens that display text, images, graphics and videos) are modular; this is because these medias can be broken down into smaller and smaller components until binary code is reached. For example, a digital photo such as a jpeg file is nothing more than millions of pixels that each have their own RGB value (between 0 and 255) at a specific point on an X and Y axis.

This numerical representation is a key component that enables interactivity to happen using modular data. For example, a database and how they are visualised are subject to the connector lines (id and the items) can related to each other in a relational way. For example:

  • id 1 = RED is a colour
  • id 2 = GREEN is a colour

The problem with this is that there may be one or more specific items such as:

  • id 3 = RED is primary
  • id 4 = GREEN is secondary

Straight way we can see that these items share the same elements but may have to be put into different tables to represent the data. This could have been created because the user has chosen to navigate in this way and thus the mapping of items, and the identifier to their corresponding value, is effectively similar to conventions which can be visualised in a way such as a list, table, bar chart, pie chart or a graph that has been altered due to the interaction of the user.

This view of a database is seen as a technological or ‘mechanical’ metaphor. To explain this further we could compare the human and the computer where the human body is a mechanism and the brain as a computer and the DNA as information.

The distinction here is that the database (as a metaphor) is distinctly more abstract and less visual.

In both form and function, databases are often used as a metaphor for our memory abilities which are fragmented or modularised and randomly accessed or requested through association. This means that the narrative must be non-linear (no-direction).

If we consider how we navigate in a linear manner we can compare it to the way we speak to each other in a spoken language which is a structure that is constructed on-the-fly; we see the norm to be a conversation that flows with statements that are based on or in response to previous statements, inferred meaning, environmental factors that the other beings have said. On the other hand, literature (excluding hypertext) has a structure in place when we read it allowing us, if we chose, to skip back and forward in the narrative.

So to understand new media, the navigation method can be:

  • Different from one form to another (i.e. from a website to a video game)
  • Different within forms (i.e. from one website to another)

So each time we use new media, the experience can be a completely different which allows space for versatility within new media which also lacks consistency and less predictability for the user which can be difficult for them to navigate.


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