Digital Treasures – four ideas to discover from your couch.

The internet is a treasure box when it comes to exploring new, unexpected and sometimes controversial ideas. The beauty of stumbling upon an idea that makes you think is priceless, but not always so easy to find. In TED tradition, I would like to share four ideas I recently stumbled upon. These ideas and projects can provide you with the big picture, details and personal insights. Sit down in your favorite spot, grab your laptop and explore them!

Digital treasure #1: Gaps filled by Facts

“I am not an optimist. I’m a very serious possibilist. It’s a new category where we take emotion apart and we just work analytically with the world.” Hans Rosling, founder of the ignorance project.

Situations are mostly judged by our personal experiences. Way too often we ignore statistical facts and base our reaction on isolated snapshots. Consequently, we are trapped in our bubbles and simply fall for emotional rationals. Surveys have shown that the Swedish public when asked about global facts scored correct answers similar to a chimpanzee who picks random answers. If you think this does not apply to you, then let’s base it on facts and test it here. A powerful tool to correct our biased view is to visualize numbers. This has been demonstrated with the ignorance project, which shows facts and measurements of the world in bubbles, mountains, lines. If you want to know whether saving poor children leads to global overpopulation or when the rapid growth of the world population will slow down, you might look at the numbers.

A bubble chart from gapminder visualizing data over time.

A bubble chart from gapminder visualizing data over time.

Digital treasure #2: Beds of the World

However, some things are hard to measure in numbers or appear very abstract when characterized numerically, though. Just think of beds. If you have the exact measurement of beds in different countries, it does not provide you with a good overview of how people sleep, nor whether beds are similar across countries and cultures. Measurements of beds give you the information that beds are smaller or larger in one case but withhold whether the bed is a strawmat, hammock or IKEA bed. But what if we could look at comparative data in forms of photos?

If you want to get a fresh perspective, you might want to visit the Dollar Street. Here is the adress:

Dollar Streetaddress
Land of the worldwideweb

The Dollar Street is a project to visualize the households of 240 families around the world and across different monthly incomes. Imagine the world’s households aligned on a street, from low earnings on the left towards an increasing monthly income on the right. One can search for daily used objects like toothbrush, oven or toilets and see how they look like along the spectrum of income. There are differences but also remarkable similarities even across the disparity of incomes.

Digital treasure #3: Microsculptures – Portraits of Insects

Levon Biss

Levon Biss on the TED stage.

Let’s for a second NOT look at the big picture, but at the detail. Can you shoot a picture of tiny insects? Depending on your aspirations of quality, you might can. However, most likely it will be a blurry undertaking. The photographer Levon Bliss was not satisfied with the amount of details of conventional photos and has started to create images of some of the most colorful creatures by using a microscopic lense. The trade off of high magnification is a very shallow field of depth. To solve this, he makes 8.000-10.000 images of different focal points of an insect, stitches them together and voila: a crisp sharp portrait! Go to his website (click on the upper left “explore”), pick the Blow Fly, Treehopper or whatever floats your boat and zoom in on this creature!

Digital treasure #4: A vehicle for Anonymous Ideas

Okay, the last digital exploration tip to summit is not about visualizing an idea or data. It is more about making a non-visual appearance. Not everyone likes to be in the spotlight. Some ideas and stories might also be just too dangerous or harmful to share in public. To give the stage to those who want but cannot share their wisdom openly, TED is undertaking an experiment: An audible series called “Sincerely, X.” that tells the thoughts of anonymous sources. Turn off the light, lean back and click play.

Cover image by Pixabay

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About Lisa Landskron

Being a scientist in the field of molecular biology & leading the TEDxVienna Blogger team, Lisa loves to do biochemical as well as digital experiments to create and spread ideas.

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