The origin of “OK”


O.K. or “Oll Korrect” was originally a corny joke amongst Boston intellectuals in 1830s Boston who would intentionally misspell abbreviations.

The Boston Post printed in what is the first known print of the word OK in 1839. Martin Van Buren even adopted the idiom during his 1840 reelection campaign as a nickname. His supporters called him “Old Kinderhook” after the New York town where he was born.

Van Buren lost the election, but OK took off, emerging from slang into practical use thanks to the invention of the telegraph in 1844. It was easier to tap out the word “OK” versus anything else for operators on the railroad to confirm receipt.

Part of the reason OK continued to supplant itself into vernacular in the 20th century was the way in which marketers used the letter “K.” Very few words started with the letter K, so brand strategists modified the C in words like Kraft, Kleenex, Krispy Kreme, and Koolaid to sell products.

Today, OK is universal. Used as an adjective, noun, verb, and adverb, it is most commonly understood as “the ultimate neutral affirmative.” As Alan Metcalf writes in OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, OK does the “affirming without evaluating.” People use the word to convey the acceptance of information and not necessarily its confirmation.

So the word OK started off as awkwardly as it persisted. Yet, there never goes a day where you can avoid the ubiquity of the two-letter word.

Snacking on disattention


Wake up snack

We snack when we’re bored, especially when we watch tv.

But it’s no longer the food that woos us. It’s our phones.

What was our third screen is now our first, so distracted we couldn’t be bothered to skip the tv ads.

The tube has been relegated to mere background noise.

Every time we check Instagram, we get a little snack. Stuck pecking at refresh, our profiles dangle like carrots begging us to buy more stock.

Will Kevin Kelley’s 1,000 true fans make us a successful influencers? What should our influencer price tag be?

Forget the future. We are poor fortune tellers. We live in the persistent presence of distraction, amusing ourselves to death.

Humans seek fantasy. But wake-up science reveals only hell. The real world screams peak screen.

The sharing virus


The biggest threat to a virus is its own exhaustion. It wants to be said, repeated, and spread until it cements into a meme.

Words, ideas, and apps are all types of viruses. Pretty much anything that spreads. Most are benign of course but perhaps none is more pervasive and self-inflicted than the sickness of self-promotion.

The social media age is plagued with envy, where everyone tries to one-up each other with their next best post. The cycle of jealousy shatters reality into shards of half-truths.

The sharing virus constricts people to a 1080 x 1080 square. Meanwhile, portrait mode constrains satisfaction. Spiraling into overextension, overworked trends and habits start to leak.

We like to think we’re dabbling in the next niche before the entire market even knows it.

Skim reading is the new normal


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Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.

Read Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound

We are cultivating impatience, begetting callousness and ignorance. We need to go deeper. Huxley forewarned us.

The running conversation in your head


The mind is perpetually stuck in the future, worried about tomorrow instead of tomorrow’s yesterday.

It’s as if we’re running toward an elusive finish line, lured by the temptation of retirement.

Hold up…why do we move so fast?

Skimming and skipping produce a race to the bottom. We expect the algorithms and Google shortcuts to provide the answers and solve a lack of intelligence.

Learning, of patience, through experience, stokes pure wildness. It is how we evolve.

Insecurity is life. In the attempt to lock it into place, we forfeit the musicality of motion.

Putting down the irreality of our screens, foregoing speedy impressions, we finally realize our potential.

This pace is the place to be. 

gif via Toby Cooke

The reading brain in a digital world


Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf book cover

How often do you print something out just so you can take the time to read it with more focus?

In an interview with The Verge, UCLA neuroscientist and author of the forthcoming book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, Maryanne Wolf explains what tech does to the reading brain.

This is a question that requires a very careful attempt at explanation. It’s not zero-sum, but we have grown used to skimming. People like you and me who spend six to 12 hours a day on a screen are led to use the skimming mode even when we know we should use a more concentrated, focused mode of reading.

It’s an idea I call “cognitive patience.” I believe we are all becoming unable to take the time to be patient because skimming has bled over into most of our reading.

The consequences of skimming:

Skimming has led, I believe, to a tendency to go to the sources that seem the simplest, most reduced, most familiar, and least cognitively challenging. I think that leads people to accept truly false news without examining it, without being analytical. One of my major worries is that when you lose the novel, you lose the ability to go into another person’s perspective. My biggest worry now is that a lot of what we’re seeing in society today — this vulnerability to demagoguery in all its forms — of one unanticipated and never intended consequence of a mode of reading that doesn’t allow critical analysis and empathy.

A fascinating read throughout. But books are not the only medium with an attention problem.

Taste the rainbow, on loop


There it was, crushing the human will. It was the antithesis to my Kindle Jenner, a screen of sanctity for focus and learning.

The lite brite is an attention thief. Like a fresh bag of Skittles, it begs you to consume your favorite colors first.

The rainbow hue of Instagram may be the shiniest of them all. Beautiful photos have a smell, as love does.

On the go or at home, there is no sanctuary. The barrage of dopamine erases all head consciousness. Enter wonderland.

The only escape is Gmail, that insignificant other who instills a feeling of control. Yet, it too is goose chase to unproductivity.

The internet never ends. Like a perpetual wave of Hokusai-like talons, buffering into the collective consciousness. Altered attention, altered thoughts, altered beliefs, forever planted at the altar of distraction.

Defining singularity in the mass


The plane I had made for Lufthansa already contained 2,000 small images of the same plane. But I wanted to get to a scale that would be comparable to what felt like the beginning of a whole different paradigm. It was the 1980s, when air transportation had truly become global: airports were becoming cities and, while the whole industry was much smaller than today, it suddenly became very clear that the airplane would change the whole world, like the telephone or television had, or the iPhone would.

Like the factories in the 1960s, the airplane had become a source of horror and beauty, a super-horror and a super-beauty. So I made this airplane that is composed of more than one million little airplanes. Each airplane is different from the others; it was all made by hand, by distorting each piece of latex rubber and photographing it, printing it, and applying it as a collage. Your mind can read and understand differences, and realizes that this airplane is made of all these different parts, each unique.

I believe in total individualism, even in the largest mass. Even in billions, everything is singular and unique. Every cell, every atom, they are singular. I think that’s the richness of art, to define this singularity in the mass.

Thomas Bayrle, an interview with Artspace

Thomas Bayrle is a German visual artist who grew up post-World War amid a world of capitalism, communism, mass production and consumerism.

His work weaves together all the economic and societal contradictions of the time, scenes of abundance minimized into pixels.

Bayrle is also one of the first artists to embrace computers as tools for making media.

Read more about Thomas Bayrle here.

In praise of the color gray 🌫


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If you turn your mobile screen gray, you’ll use it less. The candy-colored apps will lose their addictive poking flavor.

Most people disdain gray skies, pleading for blue and sunny instead.

Gray appears boring and aging. A mere 1% name it as their favorite color. It neutralizes excitement and offers no hope.

But author Meghan Flaherty makes a good case for loving the color gray. In her piece Ode to Gray, she writes:

I sometimes drive an hour to the ocean, hoping I will find it thoroughly obscured by fog. I am not a melancholic, or a bore, but I want a break from all the rainbow violence in the world. To scratch beneath the surface to the quiet central core of Forsius’s color sphere.

Derek Jarman wrote: Grey is the sad world into which the colors fall. But he also wrote that gray is where color “sings.” It is the perfect neutral, balanced, dignified—and yet it is so effortlessly swayed; it is the pool that takes in other colors as they bleed. It compliments; it brightens light, and lightens dark. It isn’t flat. It’s deep, endlessly deep.

Of course, gray is also the essence of black and white photography. It hides nothing, revealing all texture.

It is also, at least since the first printed photograph in 1826, the color of experience—or what we mean when we say black-and-white. Photography has long been our record of the world, the medium that tells the whole unrepentant truth in perfect detail. And yet for decades, no one seemed to mention what was missing. We were all content with the desaturated version: the texture of reality rendered not in black-and-white but in (five hundred) shades of gray.

As the black-and-white photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said to the color photographer William Eggleston: “You know, William, color is bullshit.” In the realism of the black-and-white, gray is every color—without the tartness. The understudies take the stage, and not one seems to miss the headliners. We see the world without distraction. Andre Gide called gray the color of the truth.

The more I think about it, the more I appreciate the color gray and it’s five hundred different shades. It is a palette ripe for perpetual reinvention.

Gray is like the space between the notes, a subtle and powerful presence that begs the curious to notice it with eyes wide open.

Cheers to gray!

Watch Portishead perform ‘Glory Box’ from 1997


For the nostalgic trip-hop heads, Portishead released the album Dummy 24 years ago today. Here’s the Bristol-based group performing ‘Glory Box’ in New York, 1997. Chills.

Earlier this year, we celebrated the 20th-anniversary release of Mezzanine from UK band Massive Attack.

The dub days…

Hopelessly absorbed


We photograph everything and observe nothing. We consume the Instagram feed, and then feel inadequate for doing so.

Human behavior is predictable, robotic. Acknowledging peak screen further cements a broken will — even the most mindful urge won’t let us put our devices down.

We’ve officially extended digital into our cells, with the reality forthcoming. From the iWatch to iSkin, the future is implanted. From neuron to neuron, we’ll check email and change the tv channel with the flick of a thought.

Digital succeeds in numbing the pain, without aknowledging what’s going in our own heart.

Mind over matter, what’s the matter with our mind?

Are video games design objects?


René Magritte’s ‘’Le Blanc Seing’ (1965) © National Gallery of Art, Washington

Do video games belong in the museum? 

I remember checking out the old Tetris and Pong video games at a MoMA exhibit in 2013. They certainly seemed to fit as artistic artifacts. 

The world’s leading museum of art and design in London, V & A, is making its new exhibit Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt even more contemporary. 

The show’s curator Marie Foulston wants to illustrate the concept work behind mid-2000s video games by showcasing the notebooks and paintings that influenced the designers. She tells the Financial Times:

“We’re trying to position games as design,” says Foulston. But how do you display games? Surely the point is to play them, and that hardly needs a museum. Wouldn’t it be better suited to a website?

“As with all design,” says Foulston “the process usually begins with a notebook, with pencil sketches. Games designers are always looking at other parts of the culture: at film, painting and architecture. We have the Magritte painting ‘The Blank Signature’ [from 1965], which influenced the design of the game Kentucky Route Zero. Then there’s the controller for the game Line Wobbler, which was inspired by its designer watching a cat on YouTube playing with a sprung doorstop. It’s such a tactile thing.”

What digital art could museums adopt next? My guess in addition to video games and iMacs, iPhones, and Angry Bird could be the worldwide sensation of the invisible digital, like Bitcoin.

‘Believe it or not, the Internet is actually underhyped’


The internet railroad keeps on trucking and bringing all its anxieties with it.

Given my day job — an investor in early-stage startups — I have a bias towards optimism and the future. Being pessimistic doesn’t bring any solutions, and the past can’t be reinvented. And if the passage of time has taught me anything, you need to take a long view. Back in 1999, John Doerr commented: “Believe it or not, the Internet is actually underhyped.” And we didn’t believe him. But he was so right. Just as Marc Andreessen who astutely remarked: “software is eating the world.”

Om Malik