Something binds weavers, designers, writers, and creators of every stripe. We all think of the end product before we begin. Imagine a narrative that began with no structure, peppered with some fantastic but listless characters, with a confusing plot, and which hard stops at an unbelievable ending. There would be no story. Just words with no weight. Even literary genres like speculative fiction or sci-fi have to be furnished with cultural imagination that is based on some believable fact, relatable characters, and logical sequence of events.
William Gibson coined the term ‘cyberspace’ in his 1984 novel, Necromancer when he needed a hot word for the sci-fi action he wanted to create. He admitted that because he did not know enough about computers he ended up mushing figments of reality and his imagination and invented something that meant ‘absolutely nothing.’ But bada-bong, it caught on like wildfire.
“I wanted that sense of another realm, a sense of agency within my daily life, looking for bits and pieces of reality that could be cobbled into the arena I needed.”– William Gibson in an interview
Cartography nerds will tell you what a paper town is. Also known as copyright traps, a paper town is a small error or an intended joke on a map placed primarily to protect intellectual property. Often map-makers insert a fake town in their maps in order to deter copyright infringement because then if one fake place shows up on another cartographer’s map, we can be sure that the property is not the original.
If Tolkien did it first, as word went around, “someone famous put this insanely handy thing in his book,” Google had everybody boggled with its phantom settlement called ‘Argleton.’ Mike Nolan form Edge Hill University spotted it first in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2014 that Google removed this ‘innocent mistake.’ Keen-eyed critics note that Argleton is an anagram for ‘Not Large’ or Not Real G’ with the letter ‘G’ perhaps indicating Google. Insanely handy for Google? We’ll never know.
Agloe is another such example but more conspicuously so by virtue of its actual existence today. Agloe is the scrabbilization of the initials of Otto G.Lindberg and Earnest Alpers from the mapmaking company General Drafting Company, originally inserted in their 1930 map.
When Rand McNally, included Agloe in one of his maps a few years later, he was sued for copyright infringement. The interesting thing about the suit was that the odds were in favor of McNally because somewhere in the 1950s, the owners of a General Store saw the name on a map and decided to camp there for business. Visit Delaware County, a few miles north of Ruscoe and you will see a signpost flourish.
“Welcome to Agloe! Home of the Agloe General Store. Come Back Soon!”
And just like that, a paper town took on life. Almost like, the Biblical beginning where God said “Let there be light.” There is power in just charting thoughts out, real or fiction. This may be a scientific version of the occultic New Thought the ‘Law of Attraction.’ Then maybe there’s more of this game that isn’t finished yet. It may be neither magic nor universal ordering. It may simply be a social science.
Today, map-making is an exciting combination of design, technology, geography and quite obviously ‘innocent jokes.’ Which is perhaps what John Green hits in his third novel ‘Paper Towns.’ If the greatest dream of a storyteller is for her work to live on after her, then it is the dream of the cartographer is for the world to be seen through his point-of-view. Even if it is only an Agloe.
“Maybe the town was paper but the memories were not.”John Green in ‘Paper Towns’
The aphorism ‘As a man thinks, so is he,’ is quite an impressive thing that self-help books say in different ways. The gig goes like this: the more one thinks of something, the more one speaks of it and engineers their life around it, this expression dominoes into other people’s imagination and a collective thought that propels people’s drives, calls to life something that plainly wasn’t there at all in the first place.
Creativity and innovation in technology, content, and the arts similarly involves a whole lot of work that may be measured and can be accounted for. The art of cartography, for example, stretches rigorously to include a painstaking eye for detail, great design, deliberate purpose, ordered intent, out-of-box thinking, unbiased perspectives, and imagination. If all it took was a ‘copyright trap’ to make a fake place real, creating meaningful maps might need more precise math and more such unintended jokes to come alive. Funnily enough, comedian and actor Bill Bailey once said,
“I start with the laugh and work backward from there.”
Whether paper towns are actual depictions of places that exist or a figment of the next person’s imagination, blueprints for goals and maps for a journey are both magically logical and logically magical. Creation, in this sense, is both magic and science. Treat your ideas with proportionate amounts of both the woo-woo and science, there is nothing much that can really stop them from coming alive.
When was the last time you turned notes on a white paper into reality? Which business idea of yours hit it off? It’s probably the one that gathered your valuable personal attention, effective resources, and the right connections. In other words, the one that you believed in, which other people also cared enough about to invest in it. I’ll quote just one last time and end with this:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”– Antoine de Saint-Exupery