Infographics, Facebook and Pinterest: The Cave Paintings of the 21st Century

Infographics, one of the most popular visual arts of the 21st century, can be compared to ancient cave paintings , known as “rock paintings” and petroglyphs – the carvings on the walls of caves and rocks. Those ancient designs and today’s infographics accomplish the same thing: portraying complex data in a visual and easy-to-understand way.

“The shaman would retreat into the darkness of the caves, enter into a trance state and then paint images of their visions, perhaps with some notion of drawing power out of the cave walls themselves.” –


That’s how I feel when I start pinning images on my boards at Pinterest – like I’m concentrating (entering a trance state), focused and fearless.  I’m sharing a part of myself and making a statement about what I like. There is something powerful about that. Ask any Pinterest power user and I’m sure she’ll say the same thing: that she enters “the zone” when she starts pinning.

My pinterest boards show the deeper, more cavernous sides of me. So, that’s why I really relate to comparing Pinterest to cave paintings and petroglyphs. I don’t use Pinterest to pin ideas for a wedding, baby shower or party, like Pinterest itself says you can use it for. Instead, I use it to express myself. Here’s a list of some of my boards:

Infographics are just like cave paintings were: a visual portrayal of data

The designers of the 21st century have a bigger challenge than the painters of those cave pictures 30,000 (possibly even 40,000) years ago: today’s knowledge seekers have the attention span of a two-year-old child: focused and curious on the thing in front of their eyes for about a minute before getting distracted by this other interesting thing over here (or suddenly realizing they’d better get back to work to meet that deadline). Keeping that in mind, the designer of a good infographic will get key points across without making you have to figure out what a symbol is. I’ve noticed that a lot of infographics use language, which is kind of cheating if you ask me. A true infographic has little to no words in it. Maybe that’s why Pinterest is so popular, especially with women. We can turn off that part of our brains – you know…the wordy part.

Here are two examples of Infographics

How the World Spends Its Time Online

Infographic - How the World Spends Its Time Online


Conveying messages through the use of pictures, in the form of cave paintings and petroglyphs, has been around for 40,000 years. It’s fascinating to think that we still make use of this visual art as a way to convey essential messages. Even NASA used an infographic on the Pioneer F spacecraft, just in case anyone “out there” beyond the neighborhood star system, captured it. They would be able to figure out an infographic, even one as complex as this one is, rather than decipher our English language or other languages our message could be written in. Take a look:

NASA used an infographic on the Pioneer F spacecraft
The hydrogen wavelength, about 8 inches (203 mm), multiplied by the binary number representing “8” shown next to the woman gives her height, 64 inches (1.626 m). The figures represent the type of creature that created Pioneer. The man’s hand is raised in a gesture of good will.

“The Pioneer F spacecraft, destined to be the first human made object to escape from the solar system into interstellar space, carries this pictorial plaque. It is designed to show scientifically educated inhabitants of some other star system, who might intercept it millions of years from now, when Pioneer was launched, from where, and by what kind of beings.”

Facebook makes us feel like we belong

Most people have a deep yearning to belong, to be accepted by our peers. Facebook is a convenient way to satisfy that need. When we post, we’re marking our territory with pictures and shared moments. Almost like saying “see, I’m normal. I have a life.”

Pinterest is popular because it’s made up of  only images portraying feelings, ideas, favorite things, places and people. Pinterest could very well end up being dubbed the world’s virtual cave painting.

Isn’t it interesting that Pinterest’s users are mostly female? Why is that? Is it because we women have an innate need to gather and document feelings, thus turning them into the scrapbook or journal of memories? Are women wired to document history? Who knows for sure if the artists who painted those rock paintings and carved and scratched those petroglyphs weren’t actually women documenting their lives just as we feel compelled to post pictures and share our feelings and share our lives on our Facebook walls and Pinterest boards?