Today is Powers of Ten Day! The iconic Eames film, Powers of Ten, is about “the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero.” The film is technically ingenious while also beautiful and educational—adjectives that often describe Charles and Ray’s work, whether a house, chair, photograph, toy or exhibition.
The influences of Powers of Ten can be seen in movies such as Men in Black and television shows such as The Simpsons; the film can also be considered a precursor to now common-place technologies and service applications like Google Maps. But how else does it impact us today? How can contemplating the relative size of things in the universe pertain to our daily lives?
For me, personally, Powers of Ten serves as a reality check. Problems that seemed insurmountable before watching it suddenly feel less stressful. Long before I knew about Charles and Ray’s film, I could generate a similar effect by climbing to a higher altitude. Whether standing at the summit of Pikes Peak or peering down from the Eiffel Tower (10+03 feet), I was always struck by the emotional, even existential, impact of my new perspective. Trees were dwarfed, trucks crawled and people looked like specks of lint across a vast, textured blanket.
Everything appeared so small as to seem inconsequential, which seemed to indicate that—from a certain height, vantage point and powers of ten—my problems and I were too. Perhaps this thought should have been panic inducing, but I found it comforting. Regardless of the emotion conjured up, the point is that changing my view prompted questions about my place in the universe.
The beauty of watching Powers of Ten is that the film transports viewers well beyond 10+03 feet above ground. Within a span of nine minutes, it zooms out to the farthest edge of the known universe and reels in to the inner depths of a carbon atom. I consider the vast array of perspectives an elegant reminder to remove my blinders and view the world from more than one lens. This might mean taking a step forward or a step back, looking from behind or even flipping the problem on its metaphorical head. Charles and Ray’s film offers many lessons, but one of the biggest is that, in reframing the the problem, new solutions inevitably emerge.
As we celebrate Powers of Ten Day, let us know how Charles and Ray’s film has impacted you, and in what ways you employ powers-of-ten thinking in your own life.