How To Be Invisible

Recently I was watching a movie in which one of the main characters sister had gone missing. This character spoke about her sisters obsession with invisibility and her frequent attempts to obtain it. After watching this movie I sat for a while and thought “I’m going to make the book that she was looking for.”
This post is going to be about that book, my non-fiction idea “How to be invisible - an exploration of what it means to be invisible in the 21st Century.”
The earths population is currently over 7 billion, however this is only just an estimation. People are primarily accounted for by the other people in their lives. And anyway, another person is just what you know about them.
By definition something is invisible if it is “unable to be seen”. And the most common use of this literal definition of invisibility is in science fiction and fantasy whereby objects are made invisible via magical or technological means. However due to an unfortunate lack of magic in the real world being invisible isn’t quite as easy as putting on your fathers mysterious invisibility cloak.
Invisibility can mean different things to different people. To a teenage girl invisibility can mean being ignored by someone you have a crush on. To a magician invisibility is achieved through slight of hand and distraction. For small children invisibility can be understood through a simple game of peek-a-boo and for those in military settings invisibility can be synonymous with camouflage.
In summary, real life invisibility can most commonly be understood via physics, psychology or technology.
In physics we know that since objects can be seen as a result of the light in the visible spectrum from a source reflecting off a surface and hitting our eyes, a natural form of invisibility is when an object neither reflects nor absorbs light, but allows light to pass through it. This is also known as transparency.
Psychologically speaking feeling invisible is understood as something a person feels when they have been overlooked, forgotten or ignored.
And thirdly technology can be used to create various types of invisibility. For example; in filmmaking, people, objects, or backgrounds can be made to look invisible on camera through a process known as chroma keying.
Recently The Guardian published an article called “Transparent findings? 'Invisible' people less anxious, say scientists”. The article described a recent study whereby using virtual reality goggles, neuroscientists in Sweden were able to simulate the effects of invisibility in subjects and found that it gave them confidence when in front of a crowd.
Those that took part in the study wore virtual reality goggles that created the illusion of their body being invisible when they looked down. The scientists tested how participants felt when they were made to stand in front of a small crowd that was asked to stare at them. Those who felt they were invisible had lower heart rates and stress levels compared to when they didn’t feel “invisible”.
Another way to think of invisibility is to think of it as a quality you ascribe to something when it has gone missing. So following this idea missing people are, have in a sense, successfully become invisible.
A project called The Geographies of Missing People was created in 2011 by the universities of Dundee and Glasgow. The project was created as a way to ‘add value’ to existing police based knowledge of where people go when they go missing. The research includes interviews with returned missing people in order to understand why, how and where people journey to when they go missing.
So how does all of this tie into the idea for this project? And what is this project trying to achieve?
This project seeks to understand how common feelings of invisibility are and also try to understand under what circumstances a person has felt invisible. Can people take these experiences and give instructions to other people on how to replicate their invisibility?
This project will not only curate all of these experiences, but will also seek to find a common formula for invisibility.
The notes from this project will hopefully develop into a book which will be divided into various sections. Firstly, there will be an introduction by myself putting invisibility into context, using some of the examples that I just mentioned.
Following from this the main bulk of the book will be a curation of thoughts, feelings, images, artwork and stories surrounding the theme of invisibility that I will have collected from anonymous submissions.
The next section will take all of these stores and try to determine if there is a common formula for invisibility and if so, what is it?
At the end of the book there will be a brief list of advice and help lines for people that may be dealing with more serious issues surrounding invisibility and will encourage them to seek further help.
As mentioned, the main format of this project will be a book but a promotional blog is also being set up to run alongside it to help further promote the project. The main difference between the two is that the book will have an introduction and include exclusive content that will not be found on the blog. The blog will simply run along side it and give readers the opportunity to submit their own stories and become a part of the “invisible project” community.
But why write a book about invisibility, and why now? Because the market is currently saturated with books on how to become visible (whether this is online, in your job or in your life) whereas this book is instead going to explore how to become less visible, something which hasn’t yet been explored in the same way.
The key message of this project is to demonstrate that invisibility is a part of the human experience and isn’t something that should make you feel alone or embarrassed. Knowing that people of different ages and occupations also feel invisible will help create an community with those reading the book and submitting their own experiences on the blog. Even though the book is called How To Be Invisible the actual message of the book will be How To Be (Ok With Sometimes Feeling) Invisible.

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Tara Pilkington

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Tara Pilkington
Freelance Writer