I've been catching up on my podcasts this week as I've actually have somewhere to walk regularly to and from. Yesterday I finished listening to the interview on PolicyViz with Edward Tufte and today I listened to Nigel Holmes. Both of these were released back in October. I started listening to the Tufte interview then but stopped about half-way for a few reasons. One is the audio is quite poor, so it was hard to hear while out in the street walking. The second is... it was pretty boring. Not that what Tufte was talking about was boring in itself, but it was his dogmatic, instructive delivery. I didn't end up finishing the podcast in the end. I simply gave up.
This morning though I started listening to the Nigel Holmes interview and really enjoyed it. Several things struck me about the differences between the two men. I don't want to be disrespectful of Tufte, but given my strong anti-authoritarian streak I can't help it. Yeah, fuck it. I'm going to be disrespectful. If someone tells me there is only one correct way to do something (and it's normally their way), I can't help but call bullshit. I also really dislike the fact that he shows so little respect for others and their work. His dismissive attitude towards people practicing data visualization and data art made my jaw drop. His words paraphrased are that he only seeks out excellence and a lot of this stuff is poor/he doesn't rate it.
Holmes on the other hand is curious and experimental. It really struck me how easily they both fell into Eric Berne's ego states of Parent (authoritative) and Child (free or natural). Everything about Tufte's language rubbed me the wrong way. Holmes on the other hand was warm and engaging. I want to like Tufte. I love his books. I treasure them. They are so elegant and uncompromising, and I guess it takes a stubborn, uncompromising person to create them. I laughed out loud when he described his property where he displays his sculptures. He opens it up once a year for the public to explore, but he is even dictatorial about how people engage with his art works; silent and of course reverential.
This brings to mind a storm in the visualization world teacup last month, involving Alberto Cairo, Stephen Few and of course, David McCandless. Few has an almost sociopathic response to McCandless - and Few's post, lashing out at Cairo for allowing McCandless to give a lecture to his students at UOM was near hysterical. Read the comments too. Few just keeps going and going and going, and he even has these disciple-like followers getting stuck in and fighting for Few's cause as well. It's just ... weird. I can picture some of these disciples, having just read a Few or Tufte book, and becoming all evangelical about data visualisation, and sitting in their mid-western office cubicles, building their dashboards, and thinking about people like David McCandless and Nigel Holmes and the HARM they cause (their words), and how WRONG they are, and how they must BE STOPPED...
I remember working for a very wise woman, who when things got a bit stressful and we were all getting a bit worked up about a project or a deliverable, would say "Hold on - we are not saving babies." And that brought us back into to reality. Whether the packet was blue or green, or if the rewards rate should be 1.2 or 1.5 were questions we could answer, but they were never life or death situations.
I believe in trying to do your best at what you do, and learning and experimenting and trying really hard to do a good job, but when drive, excellence and passion exapnds into demagoguery, you have to question "what the fuck is really going on here?" I mean seriously, what is really going on?