“Under My Skin”: When you meet someone and you’re drawn to them, you can’t stop thinking about them, even when you don’t know them. Something about them just sparks something down deep…They fascinate you.*
— Urban Dictionary
Sometimes someone can get under your skin, in a good way. I call it being fascinating by someone. My kids call it “being obsessed.”
That’s what happened to me when I first read a thin, little book called “Operating Manual for Space Ship Earth”. The author, Buckminster Fuller, grabbed me with this one big idea: The earth is like a spaceship. We’re the astronauts. And by the way, there’s no operating manual.
I soon realized as I ploughed through his 30 other books, that I couldn’t put him in a box. Was he an architect? Well, yes. “Bucky” as his family and friends called him, is probably best known for his invention of the geodesic dome.
Soon though I discovered he was also a mathematician, engineer, designer, futurist, systems thinker, teacher and poet. Was Bucky the Leonardo Da Vinci of our times?
Bucky was under my skin. I had to learn more. I convinced my family to spend a week on an island with no running water and no electricity so that I could visit his family home on Bear Island, 11 miles off the coast of Maine. I met his granddaughter and other family members. I traveled to New York City to meet his daughter Allegra. I interviewed his colleagues. (Next month I travel to his archives at Stanford University).
Here’s what I’ve learned so far: Bucky was a gentle genius who called friends and strangers “dear one.” He was an original thinker who pursued his dream to invent things – portable homes, a new world map, undersea islands, his own geometry, even a super efficient bathroom complete with a fog gun. He invented all of these things with one goal in mind: “To make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.” Did you catch that? He wanted to make the world work for 100% of humanity. No exceptions. Ok. I’m listening.
Bucky loved children. He worried about students who had just one major area of interest:
“If nature wanted humans to be specialist, she would have given them a microscope on one eye, which is what nature had done with other living organisms .
He worried about what he called “over-specialization.” He wanted children to become not just scientists or artists, but designer-artists-engineers, philosopher-scientist-mechanics, and whatever combination they chose. He encouraged the young people he met and worked with to become comprehensivists. (Try saying that a few times fast!). He wanted young people to be interested in the whole universe, not just their local town, to always see the biggest possible picture, and to always look for connections between all areas of work and life.
My job now is to share Bucky’s story – his failures, successes, inspirations — in such a way that children come nose to nose with this amazing man, and maybe, just maybe he gets under their skin too.
*Just to keep the facts straight here, the phrase, “I’ve got you under my skin” is from the song of the same title by the great American composer Cole Porter.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bucky’s book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, join me for the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s Dymaxion Reading Group. In this series of web-based discussions, we’ll be lifting the hood on some of Bucky’s best writings.
If you’re curious who I’d pick to play young Bucky in a movie and other fun Bucky book tidbits — click here.