Users Gone Astray: Spreadsheet Charts, Junky Graphics, and Statistical Knowledge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This story, which begins from the widely deplored look of the graphing in Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, Excel, and extends back some seventy-five years, is about code that enables users to create visualizations without enough craft-at least in the eyes of their critics. It investigates two facets of data visualization since World War II: iterative analysis through graphical means and the making of business charts concerning numerical data. These two efforts automate some human skills. Both are seen as aberrant, dangerous, and in bad taste when they become too automatic, as users fail to reflect upon defaults. Both activities challenge the binary division between a “nonalgorithmic” culture of human judgments and a contemporary world subjected to hard, unaccountable logics. Telling a story of everyday cultures deemed to have gone bad, this article offers a history of envisioned users shaped through tools that could amplify virtues-and also vices-in thinking, depicting, and acting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-204
Number of pages20
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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