Read Info We Trust by R J Andrews online for free (2024)


How to Inspire the World with Data

written and illustrated by


Cover design: Wiley and RJ Andrews

Copyright © 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Published simultaneously in Canada.

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Names: Andrews, RJ, (Digital storyteller), author.

Title: Info we trust : how to inspire the world with data / written and illustrated by RJ Andrews.

Description: Hoboken, New Jersey : John Wiley & Sons, 2019. | Includes bibliographical references and index. |

Identifiers:LCCN2018048217(print)| LCCN2018056994(ebook)

| ISBN978-1-119-48390-8(ePub)| ISBN978-1-119-48389-2(hardcover)| ISBN978-1-119-48391-5(ePDF)

Subjects: LCSH: Information visualization. | Digital storytelling.

Classification: LCCQA76.9.I52 (ebook) | LCCQA76.9.I52 .A54 2019 (print) |


LCrecord available at

For Kelly,

my North Star

Of course the first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through. ‘It's something very like learning geography,' thought Alice, as she stood on tiptoe in hopes of being able to see a little further.




Preface Ancient Roots

Origin The Goal of Our Craft Data Stories

Our Plan of Adventure

Chapter 1 Data Shadows A Curious World


Enter Data

Chapter 2 Information Murmurs The Way of the Future

Immersive Data

Toward Information

Chapter 3 Embodied Stretch Cognition


Visual Encoding

Chapter 4 Counting Time Count Me In

Time after Time

Any Time You Want

Chapter 5 World Building Spatial Diagrams

Off the Grid

You Can Relate

Chapter 6 Infuse Meaning Upwards


Sizing Up

Area of Influence

Chapter 7 True Colors The Grey

Species of Wheels

Paint by Numbers

Total Color Challenge

Chapter 8 Explore to Create Data Sketches

Let's Compare

Patterns beyond Compare

Chapter 9 Create to Explore Profile



Chapter 10 Uncertain Honesty Probable Possibilities

Without Truth

With Certainty

Return of the Hero

Chapter 11 Encounter

Chapter 12 Listen

Chapter 13 Freeze

Chapter 14 Connect

Chapter 15 Make

Chapter 16 Inspire Trust Our Need to Believe

Design for Trust

Chapter 17 Imagination to Image Median Gothic

Content and Form

Chapter 18 Focus Attention Workshopping

Keep Watch

Ad Orientem

Chapter 19 Creative Routines Day-to-Day

Pack and Breathe

Finale Beautiful Tomorrow

How This Book Came to Be



Selected Bibliography


End User License Agreement



Dreu is an ancient word that means tree. It is sometimes written as dóru or deru. It is a word so old that we can no longer read it directly. We intuit its prehistoric existence by the long shadow it casts across language. Many more recent words share a similar sound and similar meaning. The Sanskrit word dru (tree or wood) is one example of an old descendant of dreu. Today, dreu's shadow persists in words like druid (tree seer) and dryad (wood nymph).

Over time, dreu evolved to embody the functional qualities of wood: solid, firm, strong. These qualities traveled with its sound into Europe, where it became the Ancient Greek droón (strong, mighty), Latin durus (hard, rough), and the Old Norse trausta (strong). The corresponding Old Norse traust conveyed a type of social strength: help, confidence, protection and assistant support. This social bond evolved into the Old High German word trost (fidelity), from which we can most clearly identify the modern word trust.

Trust is a firm belief in the strength or reliability of something or someone. It is a precious thing, not easily gained, and often in short supply. Trust conveys a confidence in the signals the world is delivering to you: They must be true, or at least in some sort of harmony with facts and reality. Trust is forever tied linguistically to truth, from the Old English treowian (to believe) and treowe (faithful). Both also stem from the ancient word dreu. They are almost indistinguishable from treow, the Old English word for tree.

The word information also has a social origin story. Today, information is defined as facts provided or learned. Information is what is represented and conveyed by a particular arrangement. The spirit of information lies in its transmission. The word stems from the Latin verb informare: to shape or fashion. Its roots combine for a dynamic picture: in (into), forma (a form), and ation (something resulting of an action). Information is putting things into a particular form. Information is action.

In an epic way, information and trust, knowledge
and trees, have been associated for a long time. Trees provide us with shelter, protection, food, medicine, fire, energy, weapons, tools, and construction materials. Stretching against gravity, from beneath the earth to the heavens above, trees are powerful symbols of growth, decay, and resurrection. Across history, trees were revered around the world. Ancient Assyrians, Akkadians, and Egyptians all had sacred trees. Gautama Buddha's scene of enlightenment occurs under the holy Bodhi tree. Isaac Newton watched an apple fall in his mother's garden, and the secrets of gravity began to unfold. The Mayan tree of life provided an axis onto which the universe clings. The Norse Yggdrasil tree provides a similar skeleton that connects the underworld, middle earth, and heavens.

These revered trees are all expressions of the axis mundi, the cosmic world axis. It appears throughout world beliefs and philosophies as the pole at the center of the world. The axis mundi is visually suggested in nature by a tree, mountain, vine, column of smoke, stalk of grain, and sometimes the upright human form itself. The axis mundi is reflected in human design too. Picture a tower, ladder, flagpole, cross, steeple, minaret, totem pole, pillar, obelisk, rocket, or skyscraper. The axis mundi symbol may originate with our own evolutionary ancestors, who lived in trees. Back then, the tree was at the center of their world. Its trunk was the axis connecting the dangers of the forest floor to the energy of the sun.

The Bible's legendary tree is the Garden of Eden's tree of knowledge. The wisdom it gave forecasts our own human mortality. The Garden teaches that the world of our personal experience is not the limit to what is possible. We are all able to imagine a better world. We have the agency to help step toward our visions during the short time we get to be here. We are motivated to transcend our own day-to-day historic condition through the search for better worlds and more eternal truths. Mircea Eliade described this ambition of humanity as a nostalgia for paradise. It is the deep desire to become more authentic and more complete through better knowing the heart of reality.

Conveying information we trust is what this book is all about. It seeks dynamic action that puts things into forms for us that are strong and true. Pre-data archetypal images of trees, strength, social bonds, and hope for what might be are some of the visions that guided me through this book's construction. I believe that if we work hard to understand, together we can realize a better world. We need one another, because individually we do not know very much. I am excited to share with you what I have learned, so far.



This art takes as given that sight is there, but not rightly turned nor looking at what it ought to look at…


Once upon a time, the tree was our home. Snakes and big cats were our enemies. Detecting one would send us into high alert.

I once got to witness this kind of predator-induced chaos, standing on the muddy banks of the Mara River in Kenya. Across the water, a distant herd of wildebeests approached. Perhaps they will attempt a river crossing? Then, we spotted the back of a juvenile lion in the grass, halfway between us and the herd. The cat was on the hunt, moving toward the wildebeests. We could see the lion's trap, but we were not the only ones watching.

Suddenly, a shriek rang out across the savanna. Atreetop baboon had spotted the lion too. Baboons hate lions. They keep watch and alert their troop with a distinctive howl that warns: Beware! Lions! The wildebeests heard the baboon's message. They stopped, abandoned the crossing, and retreated back up the ridge.

Safaris introduced me to a dizzying diversity of life. Some of the animal names—kudu, duiker, colobus—were as unfamiliar as the names of the national parks—Elgon, Nakuru, Baringo. How many species are there? Where did they live? Which ones are common? Which ones are endangered? How did they all relate? I was adrift. A question that launches a search reminds me of a scientist who wishes to test a hypothesis. Something fantastic might result from our hunch, if only we had the data that could help us see.

I dove into learning about African wildlife, beginning with a dusty field guide. It introduced me to the nuances of taxonomy and threatened species status. Then, I discovered an international organization that studies and works to conserve biodiversity. I paired its data on hundreds of large African mammals with maps and illustrations to show myself, and eventually the world, a new view. A portion of this interactive project, titled Endangered Safari, is drawn below. It helped orient me to the wildlife I encountered.

Other kinds of data adventures have more exploratory origins.

I first heard about author Mason Currey listening to the radio driving down a North Carolina highway. He was promoting his 2013 book, Daily Rituals. It chronicles how 161 painters, scientists, and other creative people spent their productive days. Before the radio segment was over, I already knew I wanted to map its contents. There was no motivating question or expectation. There was only eagerness to see what was going on inside the world that Currey had assembled. That was excitement enough.

It took only a few days to get Currey's book, catalog different types of activities, and arrange sixteen of its rituals into 24-hour cycles. A poster, called Creative Routines, soon materialized. Mozart's routine from 1781 is adapted above. Immersing yourself in a new world to get a sense of it all, reminds me of ethnography. Its fieldwork embeds ethnographers within a culture. There, they record observations for later synthesis and interpretation. You can see the originals of both projects, safari and routines, at Sometimes a question leads us to data. Sometimes data makes us question. These are only two of the many ways ideas take shape.

We will soon submerge into the practical mechanics of how it all works. Writing this book gave me the opportunity to develop new data stories, which I am excited to share with you. But first, I want to equip you with a mythic perspective that empowers the creative. I will also attempt to answer some questions you might have. For example, what is “info we trust?”

Data Stories

Conveying information we trust is a dynamic activity that puts our world into forms that are strong and true. Absolute truth is a tricky thing. At our outset, we are most concerned with truth's pursuit, as an arrow shot straight toward its target is an arrow shot true. As a creator, I consider the making of information to be a craft. It is a rational and optimistic way to grow our knowledge and elevate our ability to take action.

Our craft is often referred to by its artifacts: charts, maps, diagrams, and so on. The lively exchanges these items produce is what makes them meaningful. We see the map, a noun, but the verb of seeing is what matters most. Meaning is attained while making and perceiving. Without our action, the map is stale. It has no life.

Meaningful information is often made with data. Data is like water. With effort, both data and water are captured from the environment, pooled in reservoirs, and delivered to where they are needed. The same water could irrigate a farm, spout from a palace fountain, or mix concrete for a new building. Likewise, we use data to revive, entertain, and build. Data may be a frozen snapshot, like an Antarctic ice core sample, but it may also be a dynamic stream, always rushing past.

Early peoples had a serious regard for large bodies of water, and for good reason. The sea's depths were impenetrable and storms arrive from the sea; to venture out to sea is daring. Many storied sea monsters turned out to be real. An entire class of ancient creation myths told that the universe emerged from a watery chaos that was dark, formless, and void-like.

Today, this watery vision reminds me of the cosmic soup that appeared immediately after our universe's Big Bang. Mysterious, and sometimes foreboding, water is also the symbol of hope and rebirth. From chaos springs creation and life. The chaos of the cosmos, water, and data are each formless and full of potential. The power of water anchors our conception of data as a wellspring of creation that deserves respect. We thirst for water, but too much drowns.

This book's blue margins are packed with quotes, explanations, and diagrams
. Dance between the black and blue text across your first read, or just focus on the central narrative and save the marginalia for later.

The world of myth is threatened from the deep. The epic poem of Beowulf faces the title hero with writhing sea-dragons, wolfish swimmers, and a bewildering horde of sea-beasts found at the heaving depths. Undeterred, Beowulf confronts the threat. Beowulf got ready, donned his war-gear, indifferent to death; his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail would soon meet with the menace underwater.

The monsters of the abyss reappear in a number of traditions: the Heroes, the Initiates, go down into the depths of the abyss to confront marine monsters; this is a typical ordeal of initiation. Variants indeed abound: sometimes a dragon mounts guard over a “treasure”—a sensible image of the sacred, of absolute reality.


The watery dragons of chaos represent all that threatens to overwhelm us. We do not know the real world. How could we? Our capacity to understand is minuscule compared to the vast complexity of reality. Despite our limited capabilities, we do not drown. We have thrived. Our perceptions and explanations of what is going on carry us through the chaos that is really out there. Across our journey through reality, we must depend on one another. We cannot each grasp it all, so we trust in the knowledge of others. We sense that this knowledge, our ability to help one another navigate, can always be improved.

Read Info We Trust by R J Andrews online for free (2024)


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