The might of small things — issue #25

The might of small things — issue #25


When I was reading history many years ago, microhistories were one of my favourite topics. I love understanding how small things, like folklore and fairytales, reveal a lot about our past.

Eventually, I wrote my Honours thesis on 
Singapore's national day stamps. I got a lot of laughs from it, because it seemed so banal. But my research found that stamps were little messengers of Singapore's carefully crafted historical narrative. Before emails, these little artworks were in every home. They influenced how we saw our country and helped build our sense of nationalism.

Stories about small things also teach us an important lesson on the power of collective action. A common rebuttal against individual actions is that their impact is futile. If we use one less
plastic bag, will it really make a difference?

There is a Chinese saying, "一根筷子容易折,一把筷子难折断“—it's easy to break a single chopstick, but difficult to break a bundle of them. A single small action may be ineffective, but many can make for big change. I'm reminded of the Olympics and Japan, whose citizens collectively
contributed their electronic waste so that medals can be made from them.

This leads us to a question we always ask ourselves at Kontinentalist: Are our stories making an impact? Have they changed minds? Do they spur action? Our reach is still modest, but our belief that small things can make big change keeps us going. We especially love to dive deep into the seemingly mundane—like
historical maps and ornamental fish—to show you that these ordinary things are anything but.

Do you have any stories about small things that have made a big difference in your life, or that you may have encountered?
Write in and share them with us!

Memoji of Peiying
picture of a map
As Western mapping techniques seeped into Thailand, Japan, and China, they saw themselves mapped out in relation to other territories for the first time. No longer in silos, their desire to expand geographically grew in tandem with their nation-building efforts.  
a picture of an aquarium
Never underestimate the reach of your hobbies. Ornamental fish hobbyist have altered local ecosystems, provided alternative sources of income to poor communities, and even helped preserve the Amazon forest.
a photo of a landfill
Scientists have found traces of microplastics in humans, ingested through food, water, and the dust we inhale. Now, imagine the long-term health effects for people living amidst landfill waste, filled with trash imported from other countries. This is the reality for low-wage workers in Southeast Asia.  
medium header
Insights from user research and translating it into our new website
We've been talking your ears off about our new website, only because we think it's totally rad. Peek into the painstaking design process behind our transformation! 
With this issue, I've decided to focus less on data visualization examples and more on pedagogies! I've been deep in learning about data storytelling recently, and learning has been all I've been thinking about 😄. — Bella 

↘︎ Fancy tinkering with some materials? The
"Gallery of Physical Visualizations" is a treasure trove for you to start on (yet another) creative side project.  

↘︎ Learning a new programming language can feel like entering a whole new universe with an established syntax, best practices, and community. That's why it can be helpful to familiarise yourself with its mental model first, as this
programme aims to inculcate.

↘︎ Designer adds a personal touch to statistics, using
henna dye to visualise marriage in South Asia.

↘︎ In the vein of small things having a big impact, consider mixing guided and unguided learning for optimal results. Basically, dip in and out of tutorials to make stuff or risk getting stuck in
tutorial hell forever!