We live in the age of BIG data. With ever-more-complex algorithms analyzing global flows of goods, services , capital, weather and information itself, we are constructing new power structures where some of our most critical decisions are being made completely by machines.
At the same time, the world around us is becoming less predictable with every passing day. This unpredictability confronts us through various channels, be it drastic climate change, global economic meltdowns or widespread political instability, to name a few.
This unprecedented juncture presents a curious question: "What is the nature of rules that have stood the test of time?"
Looking towards history for clues, we find a litany of individuals whose ideas have transformed our lives and still have a strong impact on how we perceive the world. Though their contributions range from philosophy and science to the arts and commerce, there is one common thread that ties them together: Most of their collective thought originates from an insatiable curiosity and direct, astute observation of our surroundings. From ancient greek scholars like Plato and Renaissance masters like Michaelangelo, to modern day influencers such as Darwin, hypothesis has always followed extensive study and introspection.
Astute Observers: Left: Michaelangelo, Right: Darwin
It is with this rich tradition in mind that we kick off our series of studying everyday objects and phenomena that hold amazing lessons beneath their quotidian appearance. Lets take the braided (or plaited) belt for example. Braiding as a process to make utilitarian and ornamental objects has been around for centuries. This particular belt in question has many unique qualities that make it a durable and beautiful object, one whose design has altered very little over time.
1. A Pattern Derived From Nature
The belt has an intigruing form, not unlike the fronds of a palm tree, the bark of a tree or the skin of a reptile. It instantly embeds pneumonic markers in our brain, elevating itself from a mere utilitarian object. Our brains are wired with an affinity towards nature, which is reflected in the strucutre of this object. Its unique appearence also sets it apart as a niche product, making it more desirable.
2. Steeped in Culture
Braiding has been a part of many cultures over time, from Australian natives who braid with leather from Kangaroo skin to military uniforms across the world that use it to signify rank and post. Similar techniques are used to make wicker furniture and hair braiding is popular in many historic and modern cultures. Braiding is even used in topological mathematics to explain organizational clusters. A practice so widespread when used to create new objects embeds an affinity within them that makes them appear beautiful and culturally significant. Not just a pure repitition of motif, this requires improvising upon traditional methods to make new objects to fulfill current needs.
3. A Greater Sum of Small Parts
The construction of this belt does not require a single, large piece of leather or fabric; its very structure requires us to work with smaller strands. This allows for incremental construction as well as the ability to start or stop as required, giving flexibility to the maker. The smaller parts present another advantage: one of higher resilience to failure. If one part collapses, the entire mechanism does not fail immediately.
4. Integration of Structure and Aesthetics
Structure and ornament are interwoven into a unified whole; the structure is the ornament. Not only does this conjure notions of purity of design in our minds, but it also avoids the necessity for additional materials and resources to be used for creating layers for aesthetic appeal. Here, a disctinction is required: this works only when the undelying structure is beautiful, simply exposing the structure is not sufficient.
5. Infinite Permutations and Adaptability
In its usage, this belt is highly adaptable. The structure allows for infinite possibilities for adjusting the length, reducing wear and tear of its components at the same time. Such flexibility also avoids continuous stress on certain key components. It must be noted here that the flexibilty of this object does not compromise its overall order, a mistake designers often make while trying to be more adpative.
So as we see, even an everyday object like a belt is filled with remarkable insights about the nature of intelligence. In this age of uncertainty, people are constantly asking, "What's the next BIG idea?". In fact, the next transformative ideas might be very small and numerous, and some of them might be hiding in your closet!