The folding point

March 12, 2010

Tight buds of paper littered Evan’s room. He hunched over what had been a clear area of his workspace, folded a piece of notebook paper in half, then in half again, six times altogether until it was a college-ruled wad. He tried it with a large sheet of newspaper: eight folds. Tissue paper: eight folds.

• • • • •

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

Carl turned off the TV in the family room. “You bet against the Blazers, you pay,” he said, squaring his arms.

“They were down by sixteen,” Joe said. Carl’s grin got bigger. Joe handed him a dollar as Evan came into the room.

“I need you guys to do something,” Evan said.

Carl and Joe answered as one: “Not if it costs me any money.”

“I need you to fold some paper.”

“Origami!” Joe said. “Crane, frog or semiconductor?”

“I’m out,” Carl said. He tossed his beer bottle in the kitchen recycling and went down the hall.

Evan gave Joe a stack of papers in various sizes and thicknesses. Joe was disappointed at the simplicity of the task, but soon the coffee table looked like Evan’s workspace upstairs.

“Eight times, dude,” Joe said. “That’s the max.” He stood up and headed for the kitchen.

“Okay, so here’s the thing. This guy, Malcolm Gladwell, he wrote—”

The Tipping Point.”

“Did you read it?”

“No.”

“Well, he says small changes can cause massive results. Epidemics.” Evan heard Joe rattling around in the fridge. “But he does something weird. I mean, maybe it’s not a big deal, but I think it’s a flaw.”

Joe parked himself back on the couch. “A flaw.”

“Yeah, see, Gladwell thinks people are bad at guessing how big something will get if you keep doubling it, and he tries to show it by telling you to fold a paper in half over and over.”

Joe picked up a folded chunk of newspaper. “Mine got smaller.”

“How many beers have you had?”

“One. Two. Four. Eight. Sixt—”

“José! Try to focus. Could you guess how far it’ll reach if you fold it fifty times?”

“Fifty times? That’s impossible.”

“I know!” Evan picked up another folded chunk. “Plus you’ve got a picture of this thing stuck in your brain, and all you can imagine is a giant origami Godzilla. Why not just start with one piece of paper and keep doubling the number without folding anything—you’re totally right, dude, the sides keep getting smaller, which is a totally separate thing. Didn’t he try it? Would you write a book and not try your own examples?”

“I would not.”

As Evan stared at the ceiling, Joe took a dollar out of his wallet. He folded it several times.

“I think it would reach the park,” Joe said.

Evan looked at him. “What?”

“I think you could fold up a picture of your girlfriend and it would reach the park.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Oh, you just keep saying that, bro.”

Joe bet Evan a dollar that his love interest wouldn’t be a secret much longer. All it would take was for somebody to see them together.

©2010 Pam Wells

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