Long & Winding Road
(image by Steve Snodgrass)
I'm on a tiny backwater island ... The roads are crazy. They go up and down big hills, with wild twists and turns. Driving three miles takes 15-25 minutes. I tell the cab driver how scary these roads are. He replies, "We think that your giant expressways are scary."
And a realization slaps me in the face. Curving, winding, up and down roads are bottom up. Straight roads are top-down. The insight expands. Straight is top down. Rounded, curves and fractals are bottom-up. Winding roads respect nature and flow with it. Straight highways demolish nature and communities.
My friend Dustin points out that straight roads take top-down central planning and they make for faster, more efficient travel. He's right.
But they also encourage centralization as opposed to decentralized, local living and doing business. Straight roads are factors that erode localization.
Straight is rare in nature, particularly living nature. Even a horizon is really an arc of a giant curve. And the needles of sea urchins, shafts of feathers and quills of porcupines, echidnas and hedgehogs are dead keratin, not living flesh, but even these are arcs. Life is curved.
When we create THINGS with straight lines and sharp angles we are imposing top-down structures.
Back in the sixties and seventies, there were hippies and straights. Straights went with the system, followed all the rules and lived top-down lives of normality -- in the materialist, social milieu. Hippies challenged rules and questioned authority.
In today's world it is often easier to embrace straight lines. Top-down, centralized mass production makes straight things because they are cheaper and easier. Those straight parts lead to straight products, straight architecture.
Researchers have found that a preference for curves is wired into the brain. Straight lines actually increase the activation of the amygdala -- the part of the brain that signals fear or threat.
Benoit Mandelbrot used mathematics to explain the fractal geometry of nature. Fractal patterns re-iterate at multiple levels of viewing. Now that's bottom up.
How do you apply this idea? Straight lines signify a conflict with nature. They may suggest some authoritarian decision to disrupt the natural order, to chop up or demolish existing local communities and neighborhoods. When you see straight lines, beware. Thinnk about the systems they've interfered with. Think about the top-down powers who have decided that they were worth subjecting a previously curved and probably fractal locality or thing to.
It may seem to cost more to create with curves and fractal characteristics. But most top-down, technological, modern construction and manufacturing practices ignore the costs that affect people and communities. Add them into the mix and those "savings" may quickly disappear.
I'm writing a book about Bottom-up. This will be a chapter in it. I'd love your thoughts, arguments, suggestions and insights on this.
I'm adding some notes from a TED talk:
Daniele Quercia, in a TED talk titled Happy Maps, shares how he discovered, after a month driving the shortest route that his GPS mapped for him, he took an alternate route that was much prettier, quieter and more pleasant. That set him on a tech path which led him to develop a new approach. He did a bottom-up crowd sourcing platform-- a web game-- a mapping project, asking many people which of two pictures looked more relaxing, more beautiful, which made them more happy. Using the data from this he worked with colleagues putting together maps -- "a cartography weighted for human emotions"-- that were a bit longer, but more beautiful, more quiet or which made them more happy.
Quercia observes that the shortest path can "rob people of fully experiencing the city in which they live." He wraps up saying, "If you think danger is dangerous, try routine. It's deadly."