Archive for the ‘of detail’ Category


The above ‘blue marble’ photograph, taken on December 7th 1972 from Apollo 17, is often said to have subtly, but fundamentally changed the way we view our relationship with the world. According to Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies at Stanford, “…it brought home to people that the earth is not vast, that it’s actually quite small in the universe… It’s something that everybody understood intellectually, I think more smart people understood that intellectually before but what it brought was an emotional understanding of that. You could see that it was a small and potentially fragile water planet.”

 Since 1972, the world has only become smaller, but we still struggle to ‘emotionally understand’ events on the other side of the globe and to comprehend the scale of far-off facts and figures. Yet in recent years, infographics– the visual representation of information, data or knowledge – has become something of a religion for geeks everywhere. Sites like Information Aesthetics seep with examples of ‘just maths’ made beautiful, often aimed at helping us to better understand the world around us by overcoming our fears and our biases.

One of the primary tools of an information aesthete is of course the map: there is no better way of portraying context; of representing a part and its relation to the whole. In fact, I am convinced that there is something inherently fascinating about maps, something irresistible. And globes – well, they have their own gravitational pull. Billy Connelly once said ‘Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosey, doesn’t try it on’ and to that I would add ‘Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a globe, doesn’t spin it.’

Which brings me to Google Earth. I have written before about the potency of the planet-spinning application, but its exact appeal is hard to pin down: the ‘blue marble’ effect, the allure of maps, and the interactivity of it all (something akin to what Russell Davies calls ‘action from a distance’) all seem to add up to a perfect storm. For me, anyway.

And so I was really happy to learn that, in the run-up to Copenhagen, Google Earth is to be used as a tool to communicate the effects of climate change: “In collaboration with the Danish government and others, we are launching a series of Google Earth layers and tours to allow you to explore the potential impacts of climate change on our planet and the solutions for managing it.” I can’t think of a better way to try and generate some of that elusive ‘emotional understanding.’


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spades not ships

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Lord Woolton launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign to reduce Britain’s dependence on imports. The operation was a huge success and in the space of six years this dependence was halved, with allotments providing 10% of the nation’s food by 1945 (The Times, March 29, 2009).

Nowadays we are seeing a resurgence of ‘grow your own’ gardening, and it is no surprise to see schemes popping up that are named after Woolton’s war effort. The circumstances today, though, are clearly very different. In 1939 the motive for participation was clear and urgent, and the social pressure huge. In contrast, today our motives are diverse and less tangible. Reducing personal environmental impact and saving money in these (yawn) recessionary times surely feature, but mostly, this time around, it is a backlash. In particular, it is interesting that 1939’s was a top-down, above-the-line, authority-lead campaign, whereas today’s movement often asks us to put two green fingers up to the system: this is guerrilla gardening, after all.

Growing your own is not about conforming any more, it is about finding respite from our time-starved, energy-sapping society. It is about slowing down. It is the opposite of 24 hour Tesco’s. It is about relationships; with other people and with the food we eat. As one resident of my borough, Southwark, explains here at the 13 minute mark, it is an “antidote to urban living”.

The thing is though, that in practice we are a bit addicted to our modern existence. We often find ourselves tied to routines, stuck in a rut as we rush back and forth. It is going to take more than posters to make most of us step back and hoe, so the campaigns of today must work harder. They have to make it easy for us.

And gosh, do they try. They act at once nationally, regionally and locally, enlisting and negotiating with a host of private companies and public bodies, all in order to facilitate our ‘escape.’ Celebrity chefs are at the forefront, of course: we need poster boys, if not posters. Yet perhaps the biggest development, and most hope, lies in the way these campaigns actively foster connections between us. From the way Oliver Rowe stocks his Michelin-starred kitchen with produce from a local high school, to the way Channel Four partners land-owners and aspiring veg growers. Perhaps these connections are what will make the whole thing last, perhaps they are what should be celebrated.

The poster at the top is by Abram Games, a graphic artist famous for his motto: ‘maximum meaning, minimum means.’

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