The nice thing about getting older and settling into adulthood is that I have finally come to terms with a reality that I was strenuously avoiding for most of my life. I’m a total nerd; at last I am comfortable in revealing my nerdish behaviour and realise that I am never going to change. In a small way, this measure of self acceptence is quite wonderful.
My nerdish behaviour can be traced back to my youngest years, I would often become easily enthralled with various things; this usually baffled my elders around me. The first great love of my life, (that I can remember), apart from our garden snails of course was Star Trek, The Next Generation. My first glimpses were when I was about five or six; it was late and I’d been up ill. I was sitting on my dad’s knee as he flicked through the channels. Then bingo! That pale face of Data lit up our television screen and I was hooked. Those first few glimpses opened up so many questions or me and it was enough to start a life long love affair. The idea of a life exploring the galaxy, with all the diversity and secrets it held had me absolutely enthralled. It wasn’t long before I was trying to make my own little Enterprise control panels out of some old cereal boxes and crayons. Yes I was not the coolest six year old in the school yard.
After that I started a life long quest to learn and consume as much information as I could. I inhaled fiction and history and relished in the other worldliness qualities of it all. It couldn’t have been more exciting to me.
By about ten I stumbled across the intriguing world of journalism, foreign affairs and investigative in particular (this has really stuck over the years). I adored watching John Simpson in far off lands reporting from Iraq, Belgrade, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and inevitably Iraq again. The idea of seeking out the truth, of living a life of adventure, where you got to write and learn and read everyday just seemed too good to be true to my child self.
A mixture of foreign affairs and investigative journalism was what I craved. I had a staple diet of the X-Files and Lois and Clark’s superman growing up, it led me to believe that the best thing you could do with your life was hunt for the truth and then expose it to your fellow citizens.
At 15 I fell in love with the Iliad and would spend hours dissecting its books, drawing diagrams of lineages and memorising passages. Then came the Aeneid, the Odyssey and The Wars of Alexander the Great. But as I grew older the pattern of developing unusual fascinations with various subjects continued.
I fell into history pretty early as a child. My uncle Frank seemed to be the smartest man in the world to me and it history was his particular passion. I soon learned that what felt like enormous amounts of information contained in the pages of those history books would help shape my perception of the world. Those books answered a lot of my questions, gave rise to new ones but ultimately gave me a deeper understanding of the patterns of human behaviour and the cyclical nature of history.
I studied English Literature & History at university for the sole reason that I felt I wasn’t ready to give them up yet. As a consequence I spent three extremely happy years at UCD wrapped up in Chaucer, Emily Dickenson, T. S. Elliot, Brecht, Ibsen, The Irish Plantations, The Hapsburgs, The Reformation and much much more.It’s only been in my adult years that I realised what I was doing. Studying a subject as thoroughly as I could and then processing and recreating that information for a select audience of one. I wished that I had had the skills that I have now. Making charts and diagrams can be a solitary occupation as a child.
Now as an adult my quest for information isn’t over, but my head has rather exploded with a thousand fascinating subjects that I crave to devour simultaneously. I have learned the tools and skills to be able to process the information, to delve further and seek the answers to my questions.
Information is the sole focus of my life. It’s why I get out of bed in the morning and the last thing I think of at night. Reading never was never enough, it just could not satisfy my appetite. There was always the fear that in a few years time my memory would fail me or that my brain would just fill up and there would be no more space left.
I wanted to capture my precious data, to process it and to display it for all to see. I wanted to grab hold and never let go, because in a few years time there would be more trends to compare it to and more questions to ask.
But I take pride in the beauty and functionality of data journalism. How effective and enormously important it is in communicating easily and effectively with a large audience. As Alberto Cairo says, it truly is functional art.
Some day when I have adequate hosting for this website (hopefully soon), I’ll start publishing my own work for the world to see.
As a gift to my fifteen year old self, here is a visualisation of the most common words in Book I of the Iliad.