of graveyards and golf courses: A perspective on perspective

When I was a child, I loved seeing photographs of everyday things from not-everyday perspectives. I think the first such thing I remember marvelling about was what a human hair looked like under a powerful microscope. It looked a bit like this image from “Long Hair Community” via Google:

I’m still fascinated by such out-of-normal-perspective images. More recently I came across the work of Pyanek, who appears to dabble in such stuff. Here’s his view of pages from a book.

It’s not just close-in that is interesting, zooming out is as mesmerising. I love flying, and spend a lot of time on planes. When on a plane, I tend to read and write rather than watch films. The odd documentary perhaps, but that’s about it.

In addition, when possible, I enjoy looking out of the window. Even now, seated at home, I marvel at the thought of how placid and glassine the ocean looks when viewed from 37000 feet. After a while you get to recognise the signs of movement even at that distance.

When I’m taking off or coming in to land, I make an effort to try and recognise “objects” from afar. You’d be surprised at the altitude from which you can, with confidence, say to yourself “That’s a golf course” or “that’s a graveyard”. With a little practice it becomes quite enjoyable.

There’s always a coming-home segment to my flights, and I live in Windsor, which means I get to do something unusual. View my house while coming in to land at Heathrow. It only happens when we approach from that side, but it happens often enough for me to know the signs. And so I try and “lock on” to the path as early as possible, filing away telltale signs from distance.

After a while I found I could do it regardless of the approach; coming over Canary Wharf and following the Thames became as recognisable as flying in over Windsor Great Park, circling to the north-west before making the approach became familiar as well.

I still remember the unfettered joy of looking down from maybe 10000 feet and realising that what I was seeing was fireworks at dusk. An amazing feeling.

There’s something special about looking at things from very close or very far away; something to learn about the thing in question; something to help you get balance into your view; something calming, sometimes even therapeutic.

We use phrases like “get the big picture” or “see the wood for the trees”; I am not sure how often we get to practise changing perspective.

Practice in changing perspective is not just a distance thing, it’s a time thing as well. Every morning, as I prepare for the day ahead, I ask myself “what’s the one thing I’d like to get done today”. But I also ask myself regularly “what’s the one thing I’d like to do this year”.

Sometimes I do this looking backwards rather than forwards. “What’s the one thing I achieved last year”. Sometimes it’s with a more critical twist: “what’s the one thing I would have liked to have done last year”.

Changing perspective can be enjoyable, instructive, even illuminating. Changing perspective in the grain size of what you look at: very small to very large, very near to very far; changing perspective forward and back in time; each of these exercises can be valuable.

Today, with the tools of social media, you can test questions like “most played/watched/read this day, this week, this month, this year”. We should be able to apply the same techniques to issues beyond just entertainment.

Sometimes the platforms give you the ability to change context: trending globally, trending in country A, trending locally. This should be something we should also be able to do in time rather than just geography.

It becomes even more important when you can point the mechanism towards “trending amongst people whom I trust and whose opinion on this topic matters to me”.

We will get there, as we learn the real potential and value of the friend graph .

I intend to write more about this; I’m not sure when, but it will happen. My urge to write has been weakened by the polarisation and politics and sheer venom I see around me.

I’m going to be 60 in a few months. My second grandchild is due any moment. Some of the people I care for aren’t well. Some of them aren’t here any more.

There is a lot we cannot control. And there is a lot we can change. That we must change.

To make the right changes we must understand. Understanding requires being able to stand in someone else’s shoes. Or footprints.

Perspective matters. The ability to change perspective, and to learn from that change, matters. The ability to hold on to what matters also matters, as you learn from a variety of perspectives.




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