Map Abstractions

Maps are abstractions that attempt to express the unexpressable by distorting reality into something presentable, something understandable. For instance, time is hard to grok on its own, but a calendar serves as a map to the territory of time, and it makes time management a little easier.

But an abstraction can only give you one facet of a complex reality. Things get bad when those abstractions become the terms your mind uses to consider the thing itself—you mistake the map as the territory. And it’s funny how those maps begin to mold your understanding of the world around you.

For example, a few years ago, I flew to Hong Kong from Chicago, and my brain just about broke because the flight path took us over the North Pole. I forgot that was even possible! My brain was so programmed with representations and maps that I, well, forgot that Earth is a sphere, and you can navigate it any which way you want—not just east and west. An abstraction’s distortion blinded me to a portion of the reality. Abstractions always distort and omit, because they have to. The trick is to be mindful it is happening.

— Frank Chimero, What Screens Want

Excellent thoughts from Frank Chimero about relationship with screens and their design.