Cosmic Zoom

The Big Picture
It’s kind of a curious phrase. I’m not sure it would be part of Erasmus’ collection, not even sure that Shakespeare would make sense of it.

According to Merriam-Webster the phrase was first used in 1904. I rarely agree with those dictionary dates. I generally think the phrases are in wide use long before they make the dictionary, but in this case I think I agree. Something about the movie screen, and how you can focus on a small section and miss the overall. Of course, looking at the “big picture” might mean that you have missed the details.

The meaning of “the big picture” is almost universal. It implies the whole thing, the complete idea. Often it is used because people tend to focus on the details, and someone comes along and suggests that you need to refocus on “the big picture”.

So, by definition, this phrase comes from someone who knows more, or has a better perspective. When I hear the phrase used I am immediately on guard. What makes me think this person has the ability to see the big picture? And how big do you want to go. The second thought is that it may imply that the details are not important.

Nickelodeon, the children’s media outlet had a very short animation that was extremely well done. It was called “the cosmic zoom”. I’m not sure of the date, and which came first, but it was similar to a part of the movie “Men in Black”. The concept is that if you go smaller, zoom in… you will begin to see that atoms appear to be like solar systems. Go even smaller and planets appear. Go smaller and cities appear with creatures, some that have houses. Smaller still and you begin to see objects that are made of atoms and it repeats infinitely.

The first animation that used the title “cosmic zoom” was a Canadian short made in 1968. You can find it on YouTube here

This is pretty early, and it has been the source of hundreds of animations with the improvement of technology. It definitely goes a long way to illustrate the “the big picture”.
It is true that at times we can’t see the forest because of the trees, but it isn’t because we are incapable. It’s not a flaw, it’s just that we have placed ourselves to capture the view.
So perhaps in a perfect world it isn’t one or the other. It is the “big picture” for context, the zoomed picture to provide detailed information. All it takes is the time to shift perspective. I’m not sure that everything has a “cosmic zoom” but for the next few days I’m going to try to remember when it might be applied.

Oh yeah, Nickelodeon’s Cosmic Zoom is here