Thread: Diaphany

I have been on and off of Twitter over the years but for whatever reason it’s never felt quite like a fit for me. Having recently killed my account yet again, I wanted to keep a copy of this thread that I thought had sort of come together…

1/11 Humans have many words to describe the desirable properties of human-made things. But we don’t really have a word to describe things that are maximally useful and minimally complex, resource-intensive or environmentally damaging.

2/11 I would like touse the word “diaphany” to serve as this missing term, and to propose that it might be a particularly useful coinage at this phase of our social evolution as a species. 

3/11 Diaphany in the sense I am using it is a little bit like the word “lightness,” as applied to an object or a system, but is broader and more conceptual, and can be used to describe, for example:

  • a house that is easy to erect and maintain, and recyclable at the end of its lifespan
  • a game with rules that are easy to understand and apply, as opposed to convoluted and ambiguous
  • a well-made steel-framed bicycle

4/11 The root of this word as you may have noticed is diaphanous, meaning light or translucent – because it sounds cool and because it hints at a particular vibe that feels right to me. 

5/11 Diaphany becomes increasingly valuable as environments are damaged and material resources stretched – it is about substituting elegance for brute force. 

6/11 Ultimately it matters as an idea because it is more-or-less synonymous with maximizing one’s chances of thriving in times of environmental stress and change. 

7/11 For obvious reasons, it has been nomadic cultures that have best understood the need for tools and methods that are as diaphanous as possible. 

8/11 I think here of poignant tales of marooned 19th century explorers dragging heavy iron stoves around the high Arctic on their way to starvation and death as the “savage” Inuit peoples around them meanwhile thrived in their diaphanous igloos and kayaks. 

9/11 Of course, beautiful design has its own energy cost, and can add time and complexity to a project, but the human mind is an amazingly energy-efficient organ. While resources may become more and more scarce in the years ahead the price of cognition remains cheap – even clothes are optional! 

10/11 Given current climate, population and resource projections, we will likely need to become more like the Inuit and less like British explorers if we wish to thrive in the decades ahead. 

11/11  What that might look like in our current and future contexts is for us to imagine. /thread