Terms like “Big Data” and “the Cloud” have been thoroughly assimilated into the 21st century lexicon, but in many ways the things they name remain distant and abstract—where is the cloud, what does it look like, and what exactly is the big data that we store there? Jingwen Zhu, a Master’s student at NYU ITP, started asking herself those questions after hearing various lecturers discussing how big data is affecting our lives. She wondered what big data in the cloud would look like if it were tangible, and decided to construct her vision as an interactive data exhibition.
She designed a 3D polygonal cloud made from folded paper to enclose her device, and suspended it from the ceiling. Within the paper cloud are a stepper motor attached to an Arduino, a projector, and a thermal printer. The stepper motor lowers a phone from the cloud, into which users are prompted to enter a string. The phone is then drawn back up into the cloud, and a Processing sketch using a Temboo Google Spreadsheets Choreo collects the data that the user entered. The sketch then causes the new data to be both projected onto the ground as at the user’s feet and printed from the thermal printer. As a result, the “big data” in the cloud can be easily visualized both from the collection of projected words, which change size based on the frequency with which they appear in the dataset, and from the long hanging printout that lists every item therein. It’s a great physical representation of how we send data to the cloud and get data back from it!