This week, I began to read The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrot. Mandelbrot is a mathematician recognized for his work in fractal geometry, which includes the coining of the term “fractal.”

The mathematical explanation of fractals is complex (for non mathletes like me) and far beyond my level of understanding. However, there is another concept that stands out from the pages.

Mandelbrot begins the essay with an explanation of why he chose to write the text in essay format, followed by an introduction to fractals in the context of his discipline, and then he explains the format he’s chosen. Uniquely, he marks the beginning and end of complex explanations with visible identifiers. The purpose: so that non-technical readers can skip past technical paragraphs without losing place overall.

For a complex essay, this format created a wonderfully accessible mathematical text that I’d get quite lost in otherwise. As a result, I began to think of the way we explain and access current technologies.

Not too long ago I observed a vintage Rolleiflex camera. In spite of its obvious mechanical complexity, I realized it was  possible to understand its function immediately as each of its mechanical functions were visible.

In comparison, most hardware* that we use today does not have a specific correlation between visible mechanics and function. Rather, it is software* that runs most functions of devices we use. Software though, is not accessible like the mechanics on a Rolleiflex camera.

While most of us use tech, I think it’s easy to forget that this doesn’t translate to knowing how tech actually works.

Our generation is expected to specialize in certain fields and to have a great deal of general knowledge. Information is accessible, and therefore we should have good knowledge of a variety of related fields, some even outside of our respective disciplines. This wouldn’t be so difficult if Mandelbrot published guides to all fields, but I don’t think he’d be too pumped about that task.

So, since The Fractal Geometry of Nature is the first text I’ve encountered that goes to such lengths to appeal to a general and specific audience, it’s my goal to make each of my posts in 2018 accessible too.

Let’s slow down on the current spew of confusing manuals, and think more Ikea, but without losing any of the screws.

Happy New Year Everyone!

By @scifiannemarie


*hardware: a system’s physical components

*software: simply, data and programming

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