A Sounding Rocket in Your Pocket

Photo of sunrise over the South Pacific taken from the International Space Station, via NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Photo of sunrise over the South Pacific taken from the International Space Station, via NASA’s Image of the Day.

How do you feel about space? When I was a child, my first-ever creative project when I was 4-years-old was a collaboration with my dad titled “2002: A Space Oddity.” It was a stop-motion animation film using LEGO spacecraft and small plastic spacemen. He keeps promising to give me a digital copy.

I grew up in the 1970s. Two of my first elementary school crushes were Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. My dad had photographs of nebulae that he showed on a carousel slide projector the way my kids eagerly snatch my phone and peruse photos and videos we’ve taken.
For me, space is both infinite and intimate. It evokes endless possibility, as well as the tight, protective circle of family.

Infinite in Every Direction

I feel the same way about the Internet. It’s an endless space in which traditional, linear forms of sharing information, curating ideas, being a member of the media, being a publisher, being an artist, being a maker, being an entrepreneur – all of these things are expanding in infinite directions.

For journalists, the Internet was a jet plane, and we insisted on driving it on the highway, as though it were nothing more than an elaborate minivan.

When I was working in a corporate newsroom around the turn of the 21st century, when the digital world was opening up so many new possibilities, my industry was panicking – and for good reason.

Perhaps the most disruptive notion of the 21st century business landscape is that someone can come along and deliver QUICKLY AND FOR FREE the thing on which you have built a few centuries of industry.

Back then, the company I worked for was trying to figure out how to handle the web, which was in every way a secondary consideration. It was a separate (and very, very small) department. It was an add-on.

I kept saying to anyone who would listen that for journalists, the Internet was a jet plane, and we insisted on driving it on the highway, as though it were nothing more than an elaborate minivan.

New Navigation Tools for a New Environment

Today, that jet has become an intergalactic spacecraft and the possibilities are even greater. That goes not only for the media, but for businesses and individuals.

But space travel has a completely different set of navigation laws than what we enjoy on Earth, where we have the benefit of polar directions and gravity to help us define our positions and direct our courses. In space, there is no North or South or even up or down.

The past 20 years have taught us that cyberspace is equally wily, and vast and dense and surprising and utterly effing /possible./

But it’s also utterly intimate. It’s a daily photo in your pocket of the crab nebula that just came from space. It’s a text from someone who makes your heart pound in your chest. It’s a radio algorithm that just played a song you haven’t thought of since the summer after graduation.

This project is not about the Internet, although that’s the medium I am using. (And I do believe that the way we live now is inextricably entwined with the digital world. We’ll be talking about that.)
It’s not about media, design or branding, although much of what I will share here will be interesting to people, like me, who work in that industry.

It’s not about me, although I am the primary lens here, so there’s that.

The point of this project is to act as a sort of sounding rocket, which brings me back to navigation.

Sounding for Depth

Back when the primary mode of terrifyingly vast exploration meant piling into uncomfortable ships and heading out to sea, one way that mariners determined their place on the planet and their ability to move forward was the sounding weight, one of the oldest known navigational tools. A sounding weight was a lead bell that performed two functions. Lowered from the ship to the water’s bottom, it helped sailors to chart the unseen topography below. It also collected material from the bottom of the ocean or river, which gave the sailors additional information about their location and environment.

Today, we use sounding rockets – small, agile spacecraft – to collect data in relatively short-range trips and bring it back.

I want to think of this project as a sort of sounding rocket, which is why the profile photo is of two NASA sounding rockets, bringing back bits of information collected in the vast expanse of the world where we live. All on their own, I hope they will be interesting.

Then, once a week, I will attempt to connect some dots along a thematic line in a newsletter that will go straight to your inbox. Who should subscribe to the weekly email? If you work in media, branding, design or another creative field, then yes, you should.

Suit Up and Join the Conversation

As I am zooming around the world of information (online, offline and real-life observation), I will be thinking of you – those people who like to make new things and those who like to make things new – and looking for things that I hope will inspire, amuse, puzzle, infuriate, sadden and comfort. I will send just one email per week – no spammy self-promotion or promotion of my clients. Just a weekly capsule of ideas. I won’t sell or abuse your email addresses, and if you find the newsletter isn’t valuable to you, I truly and honestly want to know why so I can make it better.

And far from being a voice in the darkness, I want to bring the conversation home and make it intimate. I want to know what you think. I want you to share your own observations, connections and bright lights appearing as a sunrise as another large object moves out of the way.

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