The Fascinating Detail

27th November 2013

My nerd gene seems to be expressing itself, exponentially. Released from the peer pressure of youth, I have taken to doing what I damned well please.

This happens to include ’embracing the detail’.

Tracking airplanes in the sky is a recent venture. I admit I only discovered it last week, but the FlightRadar24 app is a humdinger. It allows the casual planespotter to detect, trace and call up details of any aircraft in the sky. Anywhere in the world.

Thus, when I hear a late flight overhead, as I lay me down, I can have a peek on my smartphone and examine its provenance, destination, route and flight duration, all linked to a little plane icon that bobs along, in real time.

Within the detail of flight paths there lies a greater truth.

Watching the hum of all the live aircraft around Europe and North America makes the reality of global warming erupt; convulse. Those aircraft seem like thousands of worker bees, unintelligent in the singular, but standing for something more in the collective. Bleary-eyed, I trace their chaotic busyness and detect a malevolence that had rarely occurred to me before.

In such a chastened manner must one grasp the sweet wings of slumber.

The 50th anniversary coverage of the JFK assassination had me on high alert for all things new.

Many of us are familiar with the broad story of November 22nd, 1963, in Dallas, along with the event’s caught-in-time vocabulary: grassy knoll, school book depository, triple underpass, pillbox hats…

It seemed to me that the most interesting media outlets sought hard to tell new stories, with new detail.

The podcast On the Media, did it best.

Its chosen detail was a disconcerting one. It told the story of Oswald’s burial in Dallas, the same day that JFK was buried in Arlington, Virginia.

The assassin’s family was composed almost entirely of women and children, and no other mourners were in attendance.

There were no men to carry his coffin.

Thus, the newsmen became pallbearers.

Journalists covering Oswald’s burial were obliged to carry his casket, as the whole of America simultaneously sat by their televisions, spiritually lifting their President and laying him to rest.

For me, that detail brought a greater truth to life – something about the era itself, the power of an event to so summon a nation’s attention, and the beginning of a new era of media – embedded in the lives of those they seek to cover.

In the realm of marketing, detail has a curious power to illuminate.

I’ve recently been thinking about the health insurance sector. I have been told, by the by, that all men are covered for pregnancy if they’re with the VHI (Ireland’s largest healthcare insurer). Covered for their own pregnancy, that is.

If a health insurer doesn’t understand the incidence of fallopian tubes, how will it understand me as its potential new customer?

In a world where the arc of most important stories – of people, of events, of brands – have already been related, a telling detail can cut through and make us think afresh.

The opportunities are endless, as details, by their nature, are inexhaustible.

I humbly invite you to channel your inner-nerd, and have a good look.


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