Visual Representation of the Internet Consumption in the European Union

The impact of internet usage on the environment is a contradictory topic. While it can help reduce carbon emissions, with smart grids or the automation of services and resources, it can also increase e-waste that end up affecting the environment. To draw attention to the impact of energy consumption on the environment, we proposed and developed a computational artifact that unites the areas of Data Aesthetics and Interaction Design. The artifact, displayed in an interactive installation, was divided into three panels: (i) the left panel, which represents the countries—from the European Union (EU)—with the lowest energy consumption impact on the environment; (ii) the central panel, which use swarming boids to represent the internet usage at the installation site and its impact; and (iii) the right panel, which represents the EU countries with the highest energy impact on the environment. The arrangement of the three panels in a single interactive installation aims to establish a visual connection between the energy consumption in the EU and the energy consumption in the installation’s site and to promote awareness of its impact on the environment.


Visualising environment indicators


Figure 1

Picture of the installation on site (FeedNPlay @ Department of Informatics Engineering)


Our project consists of an interactive installation divided into three panels. The installation was developed in Processing, which is an open-source tool developed by artists and designers that uses a simplified language built on the Java language. We chose this tool as its main focus is the creation of visual and interactive media. In the first and third panels, left and right sides of the installation, respectively, we represent the EU countries. This focus is due to the response of the 27 countries in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.
In the second panel, central panel, we visually represent the energy consumption of the EU countries and data from the internet networks at the installation site through an ecosystem. This ecosystem aims to explore the creation of a narrative of boids that evolve and change to characterize the EU energy consumption impacts on the environment.


Left and Right Panels


Figure 2

Country view of different EU countries


The EU countries were divided into the left and right panels according to their indicators’ average values, regarding energy consumption, energy sources, and ghg from energy consumption. We ranked all countries by the aforementioned averages and placed countries with higher ranking on the right panel, and with lower ranking on the left.

Figure 3

Overview of the left and right panel. On the left, countries with lowest impacts on the environment. On the right, countries with highest impacts on the environment.


To understand the appropriate visual representation, it was necessary to analyze and filter the data and understand the type of variations and data variables. We chose to focus on radial representations, as they allow to group large amounts of information and distinguish pieces of information in a reduced space~\cite{draper}. Also, this representation format allowed us to visually highlight countries through their size and position in space. The countries are then placed on the panels according to their geographic positions, without overlapping.


Central Panel


Figure 4

Central panel with the boids swarming.


The main goal of the visual metaphor for the central panel is to translate the impact of energy consumption represented on the left and right panels, into an aesthetic experience.
In the central panel, we use an ecosystem of swarming boids that behave as an interpretation of the data represented in the left and right panels. In our representation, the higher the values of energy consumption in the EU countries, the higher the noise and the more cumulative the ecosystem becomes. Our intent is to create awareness on our consumption behaviors by creating a more complex and visually cluttered artifact.




Figure 5

Box created for the interaction with the left and right panel.


The interaction with the installation was developed with the aid of the Arduino IDE tool and other devices considered necessary to test the approach we intended to follow. We used the Serial library, to allow communication between Processing and Arduino, and used other two Arduino libraries: the EspRotary library and the Button 2 library. The main objective of the interaction is data filtering and therefore we opted for the following solutions: (i) use a rotary encoder to change the country selected by the user; and (ii) use on/off buttons to trigger specific events in the system. To interact with the installation the users can use the rotary encoder to change countries and the buttons to change views—press once to show the Country View and press twice to show the Overview.


  • T. Rodrigues, C. Maçãs, and A. Rodrigues, “Visual representation of the internet consumption in the European Union,” in (to be published in) Artificial Intelligence in Music, Sound, Art and Design – 12th International Conference, EvoMUSART 2023, Held as Part of EvoStar 2023, Brno, Czech Republic, April 12-14, 2023, Proceedings, 2023.