Dashboards – A Silent Lecture

Following David Stark’s initiative to deploy and repurpose PowerPoint for academic discussions, I designed a silent lecture on dashboards for our presentation at the Digital Methods Initiative’s Winter School 2015.

The images that we included as part of our silent lecture have been arranged and patterned to suggest some of the conceptual lines of enquiry that we have been laying as part of our project on Dashboards at the University of Warwick but also as a means towards prompting the discussion with regards to what dashboards are, what they do and the different histories to which they can become attached to. Some of the images too form part of our incipient collection of dashboards which you can access here. Others have been identified, classified and tagged in Google Images and redeployed in PowerPoint, whilst others have emerged out of our offline fieldwork on the use of digital dashboards as part of governance practices.

Our suggestion was that audiences can pay attention to three different streams of activity going on when a silent lecture is deployed: the presenter’s talk on one hand, the visual display of images on the other, but also to think – as PowerPoint rolls itself out – about how the images have been organised, serialised, sequenced, automated and what PowerPoint enables as a genre of elicitation in this respect.

The staging of our lecture under this format was also geared towards problematising two out of many capacities of dashboards that we have been exploring so far as part of our project. We wanted firstly to render these three different streams of activity that participants experience going on as part of our modality of presentation as a method that might trigger (or not!) our thinking about dashboards in relation to attention.

Dashboards can be thought of as devices that have historically served to organise the attention economy on one hand and that have enacted a particular model of human attention on the other. The incorporation of dashboards as part of a range of machines such as cars and airplanes since the late 19th century enabled a particular relation between humans, signals and environments to become established – a relation that has organised and brought into being a particular form of attentiveness.

The second capacity of dashboards that we wanted to elicit and point to through our modality of presentation was that of patterning. We organised as part of our presentation a previously dispersed multiplicity of images into an order – we created a particular pattern of dashboard images and dashboard icons considering the possibilities and constrains afforded by PowerPoint. Paul Stenner (2012) noted that


At a basic level, pattern concerns the relation between unity and multiplicity. A pattern suggests a multiplicity of elements gathered into the unity of a particular arrangement. As such, it presupposes the concept of distinguishable modes of togetherness.


In displaying a particular mode of ‘dashboard togetherness’ throughout the silent lecture we aimed to prompt an audience’s thinking into what mode and kind of quantitative, aesthetic, empirical, statistical, personal togetherness old and new types of dashboards afford, in particular with regards to the arrangement of multiple signals, indicators, icons under one frame. But we also saw our presentation as a way of eliciting which [what?] might be the way forward methodologically speaking for intervening into the current dashboard pattering.


You can download and use our silent lecture from here.