PJ Mode, Harvard Law graduate, military veteran, and former chairman of the legal firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering has been a student and collector of old maps since 1980. One map in his collection of “Persuasive Cartography” at Cornell University is this image of The Road to Success. It was first published by the US National Cash Register company just before the First World War as an illustrative guide to business success.

An allegorical map of the road to success. A host of shortcomings and mistakes including “Bohemianism,” “Misrepresentation”, “Lack of Preparation”, “Bad Business Methods”, and “Weak Morals” lead to “Oblivion”, and the “River of Failure”. But those who adopt the “Right System”, attain “True Knowledge”, and pass through the “Gate of Ideals”, the golden lyre of Success beckons. The map “is adapted to musical education from an original drawing issued by the National Cash Register Company to point the road to business success.”

Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography

Take a moment to click on the above image and study it. Decide for yourself if a visual depiction of a journey that includes the obstacles along the way is not an inspiring way to focus the mind and redouble one’s efforts to progress on the journey.

If a visual map printed on paper in the 1910s can have such a strong impact on the mind, our attitudes, and our behavior, what is the potential that a 3D, computer-generated, immersive experience might have on a community’s ability to solve its problems? “The Road to Success” as depicted in this illustration took perhaps weeks or months of painstaking study of the many facets and sub-facets that befall one on the journey to achievement. In a similar way, the obstacles and sub-obstacles that hinder a community from enjoying a common dream may take weeks or months to uncover, analyze with real data, and study, before it can be accurately depicted. With the digital technology developed over the hundred years since this 2D image was first drawn on paper, the depiction of a modern, community-specific map of obstacles can be that much more visually compelling.

What’s more, the modern depiction of the roadmap to a community’s common goal and the obstacles hindering that goal can be continually updated to reflect changes and improvements as obstacles are reduced or surmounted; as the community progresses on its journey.

One example of a modern, immersive, artistic depiction of a journey is from Artechouse in New York City. This is a 20-second snippet of one installation called, “The Life of a Neuron”:

3D, immersive art is fascinating and compelling — and often digital. And it has an unexplored cartographic dimension. If it can provide fascination and entertainment on the individual level, should we not explore how it can help us map out our solutions to community problems?

A modern, artistic depiction of such a map, digitally connected to sources of data that reflect up-to-date reality, can be more than fascinating and compelling; it can be persuasive. It can help a community along a journey that involves overcoming many different obstacles that must be tackled simultaneously. It can help a community maintain focus and enthusiasm along its way to a goal it understands in common.

Exploring the potential of immersive art as a roadmap to support our communities in problem-solving is a journey that has only just begun. There is an untapped social dimension present at installations such as Artechouse. Of course, we as individuals become absorbed in the art and enjoy losing ourselves momentarily in the artistic experience. What are the possibilities to use this enhanced state of absorption to come to terms with the complexity of the efforts we wish to undertake to achieve a common goal as a community?

Immersive, digital art can depict our community and its problem-solving roadmap in a way that is not just fascinating and artistically compelling, but persuasive. Let us enjoy this art, and also use art in this way to help us solve our chronic and seemingly intractable problems.