The fabric shot heard ‘round the world, part 1 | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Mar 15, 2017

It’s been two years since Grace got married. I assume her world has changed a bit.

I assume because I can’t know. I’ve never met Grace. She lives, or lived, on the small island of Colonsay off the west coast of Scotland, which is a place I’d never heard of before I looked it up. It sounds nice. About 125 people call it home, according to the latest census. It’s also the ancestral home of Clan MacNeil, so if your last name is anywhere close to that, you might want to check it out.

Again, I can’t know many details, and I really don’t want to. It’s tempting to see a private person thrust into the spotlight as just one of our many public people, and therefore fair game for any idiot who knows how to use Google. I am not tempted in this case. It was just an ordinary person doing an ordinary thing. She got married. I hope it was a wonderful wedding, and that the happy couple remains that way.

So I’m left with assumptions, and I’ll try to keep those to a minimum. As I said, I assume Grace is like most people and that with marriage, her world has changed. That’s not much of a leap, so I’ll jump a little higher: I think, or at least suspect, or maybe theorize, that when Grace got married the world changed for the rest of us, too.

The week before the wedding, there was probably much talk about details. The bride’s mother sent a picture of the dress she planned on wearing, and it created a little fun controversy in the small community of Colonsay. It was sort of a faded photograph, and of course with a wedding you’re trying to present a cohesive wardrobe picture. Everyone should blend in to the scene. All eyes should be on the bride, of course, and there was just something about this dress that confused Grace.

So she posted a picture on Facebook and asked her friends to weigh in. Ceitlin McNeill, a member of the Scottish folk band Canach, who was a friend of the bride and groom, notes that the musicians got so fascinated by the picture, even after seeing the dress being actually worn by the mother of the bride, that they almost forgot to go onstage.

Ceitlin posted the picture on her blog on Feb. 26, a few days after the wedding, asking readers to weigh in on this mysterious optical illusion that appeared to be taking place. It seemed as though, depending on the viewer, the dress in the photo appeared to be different colors, depending upon who was looking at it.

OK. You’re starting to dust the gray matter off, I can tell. It just makes my job easier.

The dress Grace’s mother wore was called a royal blue “Lady Bodycon Dress,” from Roman Originals. It had blue and black stripes, which Grace’s mother knew because she bought it, but the picture suggested different shades.

Again, you’ve probably caught up with me. You remember The Dress, and all the talk about it, and perceptions, and being fooled by color and spectrums and the limitations of photography.

And yet the world changed. We’d been heading here anyway; an argument about which colors were which on a mediocre photo caused a lot of heated debate, as silly as that sounds, but there’s so much more here.

We’ve had viral stories before, from double rainbows to politicians running away from their constituents at town halls to one-handed catches by Odell Beckham. These get picked up by social media and spread quickly, but with a short shelf life. Certain ones linger, but only in our memories, having been replaced by a latest animated GIF or Alec Baldwin sketch on SNL. Short attention spans, and short posts or videos, all combine to entertain us in brief bursts before being stored away, becoming a faint memory that a guy like me comes along and resurrects.

It’s important, though. I think it’s important to note the difference between “The Dress” and what had came before. Ms. McNeill’s Tumblr post about the dress gathered 5,000 comments in the first day. It quickly rose to 100,000 hits, then a million. And then a million, every minute.

This wasn’t viral, not in even in our current digital definition of the term. We have a general idea of how epidemics get started and viruses spread, and it’s sort of a serial thing, an exponential progression. I infect my wife, she infects a couple of people, I infect a few more, and so on. It can be rapid and wide-ranging, but it’s still happening in person-to-person interaction. I may infect 300 people, but one at a time.

The controversy regarding the dress was new. Suddenly our niche world, something for everyone but only if you happened to run across it, exploded into broadcasting. People weren’t sharing person to person; the story was being seen by millions of people at the same time, and many more millions in similar ways. It may have been our first global phenomenon of the digital age: The whole world was talking about a dress.

I find this fascinating for many reasons, and maybe even hopeful, but I’m out of room. Part 2 next week, and in the meantime, happy anniversary, Grace. Your secret is safe with me. It’s just that nothing stays safe very long anymore, and I think we should think about this.

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