I'm really enjoying reading The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, and I think I've already discovered some relevance for marketers.

The book is about the "second" Industrial Revolution, which took place about the same time the English Romantics wrote their paeans to holistic knowledge and cosmic oneness. Holmes recounts explorer Joseph Banks' discoveries of island exotica, and astronomer William Herschel's musings on deep space and time, as enabling prompts and inspiration for those poetic musings.

He paints a picture of a time when Romanticism infused both science and art; even thought he's talking about a rarefied strain of invention that required its proponents to 1) be men (mostly), 2) wear powdered wigs (also mostly), and 3) be white (completely), Holmes muses very effectively about the role ideas play in the acts of observation and knowledge. People discover what they're looking for, at least in part, whether they're conducting a science experiment, or trying to find a word that rhymes with "rosepetal."

Context if a powerful qualifier of perception, as evidenced by this story in the book: ballooning was the buzz story of the late 1700s, called Ballomania by some at the time. Experts and regular folks alike believed that the aerostatic experiments would have on effect on society "...greater than anything since the invention of Shipping."

Yet Joseph Banks, once the bold explorer and then the president of the Royal Society, perceived the potential for a balloon as "a counterpoise to Absolute Gravity: that is, as a flotation device to be attached to traditional forms of coach or cart, making them lighter and easier to move over the ground."

How stunningly daft, eh? The image of balloons tied to the tops of trucks reminds me of those Bruce McCall paintings of retro future fantasies...football-sized planes powered by dozens of propellers, sidewalk conveyor belts, and kids flying personal helicopters to school. It's as wacky as it's blind.

Which makes me think about marketing, and about branding in particular.

I wonder how much of what we see as evidence of brands originates not in reality, but in our biased perspectives? My book was reviewed recently in The Economist, and a thriving reader commentary revealed the many different definitions, expectations, analogies, and intentions that define the differences in definitions of branding. Each POV is a product of a particular context. Imagine how much more varied people experience brands, if said experience can and should be related to branding at all?

What if, say, our latest uses of social media amount to little more than attaching balloons to the tops of trucks?

Today, we live also in an Age of Wonder, as in "I wonder what’s really going on?"

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/08/the-age-of-wonder.html

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