*(Hey, you clicked on it, you asked for it! It may not be riveting, but it is me.)
Born: Cincinnati, Ohio. ––> Immediate move to suburb of Frankfurt, Germany. ––> 12 Years in Minnesota. ––> 6 in and around New York City.
Living in Germany until school age, I could look towards the rolling horizon every day to see a crumbling castle on a hill, a German flag flying high. It symbolized to me the tangible experience of Europe –– a connection to history in life, a visual acknowledgement of the millennia-long buildup of Western culture, which, as everyone who has it knows, is hard to shake off when truly felt.
Then one day we moved to the Minneapolis suburbs.
I remember the drive from the airport, looking out the window and seeing rows and rows of houses that all looked the same. 'Cookie-cutter,' they call it. At the age of six I already thought it was bland. I remember asking, "Is this it??" Where were the physical manifestations of culture?! The icons of historical memory? Where was the character? I soon learnt that I was not going to find it very easily. There were only a few hundred years under our country's belt, and materially, even those could only be seen in certain regions I would not visit for a decade.
I had lost that feeling of Europe, of that background that makes us who we are in the West. And so, with increasingly less reluctance, I became bored. Very, very bored.
Bored in Minnesota, I became determined to become an artist –– a cartoonist to be specific. It was a passion inspired by Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes, something I read obsessively to the point of memorizing the dialogue. For years and years I worked at honing some meager skill, holed up in quiet rooms with my pencils and pads, only to decide late in high school that the competitive lifestyle of professional art school was not for me. Where to then?
12 years into my life in the Midwest I was finally able to make a break Eastward. I had gotten into my ideal undergraduate school, Sarah Lawrence College, by stressing interests in writing, art, language, history, environmentalism and philosophy –– all inspired, truth be told, by Calvin & Hobbes.
I quickly became what I call 'an accidental academic'. After an aborted attempt at learning to write films, I was pulled into art history, historiography, philosophy, biography and economics. I certainly never intended to have my life subsumed by my newfound interests, but it happened anyway. I had learnt some of the history of philosophy in high school, which more than anything taught me that I didn't want to be one of 'those kids' who constantly shove new and improved arguments down others' throats. But it kept with me, like a virus of sorts, and pretty soon I was spending a year at Oxford University studying precisely what I always told myself I wasn't going to.
I wanted to learn something useful. Something which could fit into business or technology, social change or economics, journalism or engineering! But, as my new, humanistic work ran away with me, I started to make out the contours of a certain application of all this. The direction opened up for me without, it seemed, much of my own input.
All of a sudden I was reminded of the first research project I ever attempted, back in 9th Grade: the history of the comic strip. As a form of artistic expression, as a political tool, as an exposition of humor and of, rather broadly, visualization. Naturally, the paper had been rather basic. It merely followed the idea of the sequential image from Trajan's Column to the Bayeux Tapestry to The Yellow Kid to, well, Garfield and Dilbert. But the idea was there.
I was interested in the history of how concepts and forms of representation shaped the ways we picture information. And the intellectual history of ideas and the history of art, philosophical or otherwise, applied here more than anything else I had ever seen on the subject.
Just as the era of Big Data had begun to come to the fore; and just as, consequently, a relatively small field called Data Visualization was enjoying something of an ideological and technological renaissance.
Well... I was certainly no longer bored.
I've never had more or more interesting things to do in my life.