Enter the matrix

Ben Fry is a genius.

In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s a doctoral candidate at MIT who specializes in creating innovative ways to visualize information. If you have an hour free, I urge you to go to his web site and check out virtually everything there. A few of my favorites:

An enormous poster showing the software code for the original Super Mario Bros. video game, with delicate flow-chart arrows swooping around illustrating how the code worked.

An interactive map of the US that shows you how zip codes work. You type in a zip code number by number, and as you add each digit, it shows you the part of the country you’re slowly narrowing down to.

“Tendril”, an application that takes content from web sites and displays it as gorgeous 3D sculptures floating in a Matrix-like null space.

A ghostly poster that uses the president’s announcement of the imminent invasion of Iraq to try and illustrate the casualties it would cause.

This guy’s work is an elegant illustration of Edward Tufte’s argument: That in a world where we are increasingly asked to parse and manipulate huge amounts of inscrutable data, we need increasingly innovative ways to visualize it. Visualizing information can have a political effect, as with the Bush-war poster. Or it can simply be a way of making the intangible suddenly visible — as with that breathtaking flow chart of how the Super Mario code works. Either way, when it’s done well, it’s damn cool, and I’ve rarely seen it done better.

(Thanks to Jonathan Korman for finding this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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