Heather Houser writes on science, the environment, and contemporary culture and is an associate professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Infowhelm: Environmental Art and Literature in an Age of Data (2020) and Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect (2014). She co-directs Planet Texas 2050, a research grand challenge on climate change at UT Austin. (May 2020)
When we read the newspaper, turn on the television, or scroll through social media, we’re daily met with data: dizzying numbers of disease prevalence, fatalities, ventilators, unemployment claims; models predicting time to hospital overload, time to reopen for business. Many of us contribute to the burden of information that travels hand-in-hand with coronavirus when we share captivating visualizations of pandemic data. Covid-19 is undoubtedly testing our public health, medical, and economic systems. But it’s also testing our ability to process so much frightening and imminently consequential data.