Mastering Complexity: The London Underground

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Complexity surrounds us. Mastering new technology, understanding scientific discoveries, even learning how to play an instrument well. But few things are more fearsome to master than the evil intricacies of the London Underground network, a system of such unending complexity that several of the original Victorian innovators are still looping the Circle Line in their top hat and tails, trying to generate enough centrifugal force to escape.

Tube Map

The system itself was built to master plans. Unfortunately, those master plans resided in the heads, hearts and wallets of a number of individuals, and bore little resemblance to each other. The resulting tangle of tubes, deep lines, tunnels, cuts and escalators circle and transect the city like a spiders web on acid. Some lines are grand: Art Deco wrought iron fixtures and echoing hallways, others squalid, modernist or just plain odd.

There are few straight lines on the Tube: your journey usually…

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Social Authority: Power Beyond the Throne

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Historically, we embedded many of the manifestations of hierarchical control into our physical environment: City Halls, castles, libraries, universities, walls, ditches, astronomies, senates. The layers of authority were both conceptual and physical: you could only enter the spaces of power with the right permissions. And within those spaces, the person who was speaking held sway from thrones, pulpits, mounds and stages. Channels of communication were moderated and controlled by publishers, broadcasters, lawyers and the police.

Social Authority

Today, the pulpits are in our heads, the bastions of publishing have been overrun and the authority is consensual, moderated by the community within a framework of legal decency.

Formal authority still exists, but the types of control it exerts are different. It’s harder to control information, harder to repress knowledge, because the mechanisms of permeation and spread are so embedded in our lives. When every device of consumption is one of production, when we…

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Depression: Reflection

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Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

What rings true for me may be alien to you. Our experiences of life are very different. Portfolio of scenes, interlinked, overlaid. Fragments of memories, evolving contexts, friendships loved and lost. The ephemera we collect through life: photographs, clothing, books, records. Memories. More books. Our perspectives shift with age and experience. The things will never make us happy. Our legacy is built of more than brick.

Image © Julian Stodd Image © Julian Stodd

Our memories of Robin Williams will be tinged with sadness: the outpourings of love and respect coloured by our inability to change the tracks of time. Of loss. Of loneliness.

For all the fame and wealth, to be consumed by your own demons: who can imagine the despair and desperation? Sometimes the barriers we put up prevent others reaching out to us, reaching in to us. We can’t be helped by words alone. For all their power to make us…

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