Sunday, March 18, 2007

Timeline as a River

Reading this article on the history of suburbs in America, I came across this note:

This timeline is not meant to be definitive. There are no clean breaks in history. Thus the timeline is depicted as a meandering river to indicate the continuous flow of events. The dates show stops along the way where the river course shifts, implying a directional change in history.
A sucker for all things ecological, I immediately stopped reading and started contemplating this idea. On the following page of the article is the chart on the left. I appreciate the authors' attempts here to take a linear timeline and present the movement of time as a more complex set of inter-related events, however, it occurs to me that a simple meandering line does not quite account for the eddies, braids, oxbows, and alluvial fans that all rivers naturally develop. On the whole, they end up representing time as a basic linear process, even if they do acknowledge the complex dynamics of a natural system in the process.

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