The Treachery of Images
Hello there :)
Welcome to issue fifty one of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected things I’ve recently encountered.
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Speaking of coffee, grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing...
Part I: Things I’ve Encountered…
Depending on when you read this missive, I’ll either be speaking at; or have already have spoken at Aira’s MKGO conference.
I’m kicking off my talk by speaking about a piece of art which I’ve recently become obsessed with, and so, I figured I’d share this recent obsession with you too.
This is the piece:
Why have I become obsessed with it?
Here’s my interpretation of what it means: It's not a pipe, it's a drawing of a pipe; and a drawing of a thing, is not the same thing as the thing itself.
Right now, some of you might be thinking - wait, what? IT IS A PIPE!
To which, I’d say - no it’s not. You can’t smoke this pipe. It’s a drawing of a pipe, and a drawing of a thing, is not the same as an actual object.
I think it's a statement about how we perceive things:
we think that the way we perceive stuff is a true reflection of what's there, but it's not.
Your brain thinks that a picture of a pipe, and an actual pipe are the same thing. But they aren’t.
As such, it's a piece of art which encourages us not just to think critically about how we perceive things, but also to question the things we perceive to be true.
Other people, who are much smarter than me, have said it’s a nod to Korzybski's assertion that “the map is not the territory”, which I think is a fascinating concept, and one that’s worthy of a little further exploration:
We tend to believe that a map is a true representation of a territory, but of course it isn’t. In order to remain useful, map makers omit a bunch of details.
You could use Google maps to navigate your way to my flat; but you can’t use Google maps to get to my bathroom.
In a similar vein, Google maps can’t help me find my keys: because they aren’t on the map.
On some level we understand that map makers have to omit details. If they didn’t, the map would be same the size as the territory, and then we wouldn’t be able to use the damn thing.
Deep down, we know that the map is not the territory… but we have a tendency to forget this.
And the omission of detail is not the only problem or limitation that a map might have - all maps have these limitations:
Accidental omissions or errors
They are out of date
Your brain thinks that a picture of a pipe, and an actual pipe are the same thing. But they aren’t. In the same way, your brain thinks that a map, and the actual territory are the same thing. But they aren’t.
The problem is that we are all map makers - our minds create maps (or models) of reality in order to try to understand it. The only way we can process the complexity of reality is through reductions like these.
All the maps and models we make involve reduction, and removal: we ignore or erase a bunch of stuff so we can focus on whatever we determine is “important”.
And so, the maps (or models) we make are necessarily flawed, but because we fail to recognise we’ve even made a map, we don’t consider what the limits of the maps we’ve made might be.
The truth is, all of the models, frameworks, and processes we create have the same limitations as real-world maps:
Accidental omissions or errors
They are out of date
We just fail to realise this is the case.
mind = blown
I made this thinger, to try to help me remember that all those maps, models, frameworks, and processes I’ve created, have these limitations:
I owe a massive debt of gratitude to my far my knowledgeable friends Nichola Stott, and Grace Palmeri, who were kind enough to talk with me about this piece, and to check that my interpretation of this work was not wildly wrong.
Moar serendipitous finds:
TikTok’s algorithm appears to be incentivising higher percentages of users to post, rather than just lurk…
This is a fascinating read on TikTok’s algorithm and how it seems to be impacting users’ behaviour. Also noteworthy: the way that TikTok works means that users can’t build stable audiences in quite the same way as they can on other platforms, and, as such, this state of precarity keeps them posting regularly, and prevents them from gaining too much power.
Carmen Maria Machado considers Jennifer’s Body
I loved this essay from Carmen Maria Machado so much it prompted me to re-watch Jennifer’s Body. It’s available on Disney+, and it’s the perfect time of year to watch or re-watch it, people!
Learnings from 3 years of public speaking
Here Areej AbuAli compares and contrasts her first experience of public speaking, to her experience at her latest gig. So much great stuff here!
In the 1960s, artist, educator, and social justice advocate Corita Kent asked her students to collectively reimagine what a learning environment could be. Their contributions comprised the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules (commonly referred to as “Ten Rules”).
Here, former students and contemporaries of Corita: Ed Ruscha, Barbara Loste, Lenore Dowling IHM, Meredith Monk, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Haven Lin-Kirk, Jerry Brown, Patrick Martinez, Alexandra Grant, Roxane Gay, and L. Frank, each read from the ten rules and provide a personal reflection in their own words.
This essay by Yuxi Lin is wonderful:
“In the great halls of Costco, two of our greatest fears are assuaged — that of not having enough, and that of not being enough.”
Vintage illustrations of flora and fauna are used to create surreal portraits by MUMI
From vintage encyclopedias, magazines, and art historical paintings, the Argentinian artist, MUMI cuts and layers images to create new compositions. Prints are available from Society6, and you can find an archive of her work on Instagram.
You might also like:
How death masks blur the lines between art, mourning, and remembrance
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
After Sappho, by Selby Wynn Schwartz. Here, Schwartz takes biographical fragments of the lives of many historical women (including Lina Poletti, Virginia Woolf, Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Nancy Cunard, Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, and more!), to form a collective, compelling narrative which speaks to all of us in the here and now.
The fragments of these women’s lives are discrete but cumulative; progress is promised over, and over again, but is continually revoked. Given the diabolical loss of freedom women are facing in the present, this book feels urgent and important; and even if you’re not sure this one’s for you, I’d encourage you to read it yourself, and to buy a copy for someone you love.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
The Bear, Disney+. Recommended to me by my friend Ben (thanks Ben!), this eight-part drama follows Carmy, a burned-out and broken Michelin-star chef, who, after his brother commits suicide, returns home to run the family restaurant. Episodes are just 30 minutes long so you can easily binge this in just one night; plus it’s one of those rare shows without a romantic hook (YES!). It’s not without its flaws, (initially I found it a little hard to follow), but this one’s well worth your time.
Inside Man, BBC iPlayer. This 4-parter by Stephen Moffat starts out great, but sadly, fails to fully deliver. The show suffers from a similar plot problem to the film Shallow Grave, in that there’s a relatively easy way out of the mess which none of the characters seem to acknowledge. Nevertheless, Dolly Wells is GLORIOUS and I think it’s worth watching for her performance alone.
Part IV: What I’ve been up to…
Teaching my course at BrightonSEO was an absolute delight, plus I got to catch up with bunch of lovely folks, albeit a somewhat briefly. From Brighton I headed to Milton Keynes to see my Dad and our friends Dale and Wendy, who took us to see Fishermen’s Friends (the Musical), and then on to a fancy dinner event at the Bodleian Library in Oxford which was absolutely incredible.
The following week I met up with my friend Amira, and we went to see the amazing Lips Choir perform at the Clapham Grand; Steve and I put the world to rights on Friday night; and I got to spend Sunday evening at Hawksmoor with Laura.
On Monday I headed to SearchLove, and got to see more lovely people I’ve not seen in far too long, and I’m currently in the process of finalising my deck for MKGO, (or possibly just making the damn thing progressively worse with each edit).
MKGO this Friday :)
I chatted to Britt Klonz and Jaclyn Lambert about benchmarking the performance of 2,000+ digital PR pieces, how to set realistic client expectations, and a bunch more besides. Do have a listen and let me know what you think; plus you might like to check out their previous podcast episodes too - it’s a really great show.
I’ll be on the Yoast SEO news webinar on October 25th
Sign up to listen to Jono Alderson speak intelligently about SEO things, whilst I attempt to keep up with his marvellous brain! We’ll also be talking about creativity which will be lovely.
Tickets are still available for WTSFest 2023 - but they’re selling out fast
On 3rd March 2023, I’ll be back emceeing this amazing event and I cannot wait. Bag yourself a ticket here.
That’s all from me for now :)
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