Charlotte van Oostrum

Charlotte van Oostrum is a writer and digital strategist from Amsterdam. She writes about food for @bornhungrymag and co-organises the Dutch content strategy meetup @contentcafe. She loves autumn, dogs, and (baking) sourdough bread. She occasionally tweets as @cevoostrum.

Published Thoughts

In 1610, when Galileo Galilei was the first to look at the planet of Saturn through a telescope, he discovered that it had ears. But when he looked again a few months later, they were gone. It wasn’t until 1655, when Christiaan Huygens looked at Saturn again–with a better telescope this time–that Saturn’s ears were rediscovered and recognized as rings. Two centuries later, James Maxwell saw that those rings actually consisted of blocks of debris that only looked as rings due to their movement.

Later, it was found out that when Galileo failed to see the ears, he’d seen the rings edge-on. His telescope didn’t have enough power to sufficiently enlarge the edge, which made it invisible at the time. Finally, in 2004, NASA’s Cassini Orbiter arrived at Saturn. It’s still in orbit, and sends back new information and images every day. It’s as if we’re there: “[g]azing upon one of our images, we are instantly there, hovering above the rings or climbing the cliffs of Iapetus,” the Cassini Imaging Laboratory writes.

The Relation Between Nature and Man

From Galileo’s early telescope to NASA’s space shuttle, every technological development altered our conception of Saturn and consequently our universe. Walter Benjamin once wrote: “Technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and man.” Technology is a mediator. In the case of Saturn, this means that an object looks different dependent on the tool you use to visualise it.

For Galileo, seeing things differently had very real consequences. He saw many more things through his telescope besides Saturn’s ears, and he discovered that the universe revolves around the sun and not the earth. This change in perspective threatened to change the world–the Catholic world especially. To stall the seismic shift that was about to shatter their belief system, Galileo was given house arrest for the rest of his days.

Your World, My World

Today, many people are fortunate enough to live in a world where it’s encouraged to develop a perspective of your own. When perspectives live alongside one another, they often remain just that: a different view on things. It’s OK that your world is different from mine. Yet, a perspective isn’t just a view. It’s a change in how the world is constructed, even if it’s only yours. After seeing NASA’s images, this is what Saturn is to you, and is as real to you as its ears once were to Galilei. Seeing an object differently changes it, and every new device, tool, app, or argument can change a perspective.

Editorially changed the way I write. Readmill made people read differently. Devices shape the way you relate to your newborn. A pacemaker gave my mother a future. Even if it’s only your life, every device, tool, app or argument has the potential power to alter someone’s world.

It’s something to keep in mind when we make things.