Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Boom. Proven with statistics.

I couldn't help noticing this image, tiny as it is. It's a graph showing changes in the number of U.S. jobs over time. Even though the graph depicts job losses almost exclusively, it's a graph that makes President Obama look fairly good, compared to his predecessor.

What does it mean to make a graph into a Twitter icon?

There's something terribly Harper's Indexy about it: look at the [visual representation of the] numbers; the numbers don't lie. Boom. Proven with statistics.

The Harper's Index is interesting because it is aware of its own comical aspect. Its writers think nothing of contorting a sentence or an idea in order to fit the formula of label: number. This is in part the source of the comedy. There's a certain playful pettiness involved in the Harper's Index. It's a pettiness that meshes perfectly with the Index's particular kind of authority. An index only claims to indicate.

Here, in the Twitter icon, is the same gesture. It's an appeal to statistics as an authority -- here, an authority that stands in for the President of the United States, a discursive authority that serves now as the visual marker for an authority's discourse, the President's Twitter account (managed, of course, by a staffer).

As a Twitter icon, the graph is too small to read; it only makes sense if you already know what it represents (which you may, since it's been used widely in news media). Here, too, the thought has been crammed into a small and rigid space, the conventional formula of the Twitter icon.

It's the very cramming that makes it possible to say: Boom. Proven with statistics.

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