Friday, November 12, 2010

Visual Mulch

There are few visually inclined people around than one would think. There is always the phrase that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ that is popular. It does mean something especially when trying to explain complex things. But one is surprised that it really does not help some folks. Maybe I exaggerate. Perhaps that is why one should read Tufte – the so-called guru of visual expression. I had bought his three landmark text books but I have not had a chance to read them. Possessing them already gives one a satisfied feeling. The next step is usually to read and I am preserving that for a rainy day. A library is supposed to be kept for a rainy day. Now as one gets older the rainy day comes much closer. In fact one accumulates a library for one’s old age – to have company and comfort among books and the many stories within them.

At work, one is often explaining things. Often talking heads fill the space that one sees with only the mouth moving and the verbiage hurling past you with a sign of recognition or understanding. Now here come visual thinking techniques. Does it really help? Making pictures seems like an extravagance because it assumes abstract reasoning or elitist understanding. But sometime its not there and it become visual verbiage. Nevertheless it’s a good exercise for the creator – to exercise one’s expression and creativity. Sometimes there is a glimmer of understanding – recognition that communication has been achieved. But it seems to be rare and far between. This is why great orators are a wonder. There are few who are not only great orators but great thinkers as well.

When Lincoln passed away, one of his cabinet members said, ‘this is one for the ages.’ There was no mistaking that a great man had gone. Compared to other people, including the current president, Lincoln’s oratory seems very simple. It reaches sublime heights without sounding extravagant and indulgent. Sadly, today’s orators lack this quality. Perhaps because today’s leaders have led a comfortable life. Not the hard life of Lincoln. He is self-taught but did not lack confidence or self-esteem. These days one will feel uncertain if he lacks a formal education, at least at the college level. There is a lack of grit and home spun common sense existing today. Perhaps it exists in folksy people like Sarah Palin who most sophisticates look down upon. Lincoln was ridiculed in his day as well although I am not at all suggesting that Palin is Lincoln-like.

Most common folks do not have the sophisticated high mindedness of visual thinking techniques. In fact the simplicity of thought is a good quality without the self-deluding and self churning mentality of a confused mind. I guess these folks would not waste time writing here in a blog as well. But it is a form of exercise like going to the gym. But this thinking and writing exercises will not make one a Lincoln who derived his brilliance by going through a difficult life. Perhaps going through this self-inflicted exercise is like simulating a tough life but the result is arrogance instead of humility. This is the secret of the great ones because they do not think they are better than other people. Other folks think that having a lot of experience, books, education and stuff makes them rise above the rest which is the fatal mistake of hubris.

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