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Joining the dots from A to unknown
21 April 2020 . 4min read

If you are anything like me, then you will spend a lot of time on YouTube just randomly clicking on stuff. It really is an astounding piece of social engineering. You can amble on there, intending to watch (again) that rather wonderful Abba video. At the end of the video, it will suggest something else; down the right side of the page, it will also suggest another thing that you might be interested in. So the journey begins.

When I was a kid, going to school on a bus, we would often play the Word-Association game. It was simple enough, and can work with 2 or many players. Someone gets to start and chooses a word. The next person has to choose another word, but they must relate it to the previous word. The relationship can be as tenuous as you want, but when challenged, you should be able to explain it. For example; Wine -> Grapes -> Ghostbusters. With the last jumping being explained as, "people think of grapes as green, when people think of the Ghostbusters movie, they remember the cute ghost-monster who is also green." You get the idea. The entertainment value in the game is to stop and some point and wonder at how far away the first word is from the last.

Back to YouTube. It is doing the same thing. It somehow takes you down a route of tenuous links, into a rabbit hole of entertainment and wonder.

Whilst on such a journey I stumbled upon, which sounds like I actually had a choice, perhaps more accurately coerced, a wonder.

His name is Marc Verdiell. You can find out more about him at Curious Marc.

He had previously restored a 1930s Teletype machine, specifically the Model 15 Teletype. These machines were used to send text a few miles away to another machine, which would then automatically print it out onto paper, like a typewriter would do; just text. Having read the typed page, the operator could type back a response. The whole machine is mechanical.

He wondered if he could connect this 1930s bit of mechanical kit to a modern computer & get it to perform 2-way communication. As you may expect, there were quite a number of challenges in doing that. He did, of course, succeed. It's remarkable to watch.

Anyway, it got me thinking, which granted doesn't take much effort, about connections. He demonstrated you can connect something from one era to another era.

Much of our social connections are within the same social bubble. You can reason why you have a connection to someone or something. This might be because of geography, or it might just be down to feeling safe with things that we know. When we seek, or stumble upon, new potential connections, there is that internal sanity-check that measures it against those previous connections. It is self-regulating. Sure, some are better at this than others, but it still happens at some level.

In the above example, Marc takes two items that have no default right to have a connection and connects them. There is the extensive and impressive technical skill in doing that, but there is also something else going on here.

Marc demonstrated the ability to think in the abstract, to consider the inconsiderable. He then acted on that.

I find myself that there is some value in doing that. I mean, considering the inconsiderable. Not to follow through and act on it, but to do the thought bit before the action …

In doing so, you are coercing your mind to take an unfamiliar route. You are asking it to go on an associative walk into the wilderness. Going from the initial thought to the next, to the next, to the next. Seeing if there is a route to the ultimate aim.

Would it be possible to walk across an entire country in a straight line? Could you record the Internet as noise onto a wax cylinder? Can you really mix fire and play dough? Could I knock on my neighbour's door and have a friendly conversation without being creepy about it?

I'm not saying that you should do any of those things, but in thinking about the possibilities, you are entering a philosophical gym.

Just as we should endeavour to exercise our physical self, I think there is merit in trying to exercise our mental self too.

I took this photo on a woodland walk. It's not the broken wood that I find interesting, although the texture is a visual treat, no it's the flourish of the orange fungi. It is as if life itself is bursting out.


Profile photo of Nigel Derbyshire

I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire