Tangible Earth: Information design and “natural” disasters
This article analyzes the processes of risk visualization characterizing disaster risk reduction policies and, in particular, the digital artifacts the international world of disaster management uses in an effort to view threats to the planet and render them open to human experience. The purpose of these artifacts is to foster experiences that grant both quantitative shape and social form to the nature of global risks. Tangible Earth, the first interactive digital globe, is the most sophisticated of these artifacts in that it strives to gather a wide, varied audience of humans and enroll them in co-producing the risks affecting the Earth. This process of delving into experiences of the globe as mediated by digital equipment mobilizes diverse ontologies: there is a “naturalist ontology” that represents nature as independent of the social sphere, as a force that remains insurgent and unpredictable despite efforts to quantitatively capture it through earth-monitoring instruments and probabilistic calculations, and there is also an “analogist ontology” in which nature is cast as indistinguishable from the social sphere on the grounds that both human and non-human collectives share the same propensity for resilience.
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