A place called home

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Photo by Wells Baum

My dad couldn’t wait to leave Youngstown, Ohio growing up. There was a vast world out there he wanted to explore. He preferred to exit a place he couldn’t change in exchange for one where he could find more creative stimulation and meet different folks.

It didn’t take long for his away to feel like home, as was the case with my own upbringing. After my family moved from Dallas to New York, ‘Big D’ felt small and insular in retrospect. However, it was only upon visiting Youngstown to see my grandmother years ago that I witnessed a more parochial side of America.


In big cities, you’re just another unknown. In small towns, you can't even hide; your family reputation precedes you from the coffee shop to the church. Being a somebody instills the false notion that everything is going to be ok because your relatives and neighbors share similar interests. But like-mindedness traps people into fitting in without questioning the status quo.

I understood why my Dad felt the urge to leave his hometown to seek new challenges. As Tocqueville observed, “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”

But small towns like Orange City, Iowa are proving to be more elastic. Locals who left town in search of big city dreams are returning and bringing their changed perspectives with them. That doesn't mean traditional values are withering, but it does mean that the provincial can come to tolerate ethnic and religious disparities without isolating the other. It's worth noting that cities carry their own biases; in gentrified cities like San Francisco, the homeless sleep in newspapers just outside the homes or billionaires.

Democracies are supposed to be noisy, pluralistic places that progress through open dialogue. While the internet accelerated communication and appeared to knock down borders, it also led people back into tribes. The only way to salvage openness is to experience the world beyond your original birth place (urban or rural) and then come back with an appreciation for discussing differences face to face.

A tolerance for dialogue and discomfort makes territories on a map more arbitrary than they already appear.


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Newsletter: Wandering mind not a happy mind

Below are five links I think you'll find interesting. As always, listen to a new tune and old gem after the jump.

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Lafayette Maynard Dixon (1895), via The MET

Philippe Starck on the infinity symbol. Some people are better thinking in symbols rather than words. For French inventor Philipe Starck, that symbol was “∞” for infinity, designed by English mathematician John Wallis in 1655. Says Starck: “For me, it is the most intelligent piece of graphic design in the world. To say something in a complicated way is very easy. But to find a way to say it simply – that takes a lot of work.”

Podcast: Picasso's Guernica. ‘All finished paintings are dead paintings.' Picasso’s Guernica took 7 weeks to paint, but it could have taken a lifetime. But done is better than perfect, especially in times of strife. The work appeared in a Paris exhibition in 1937 and became an essential piece of political art, warning against the destruction of war.

Modern Media Is a DoS Attack on Your Free Will. Tech is the ‘cigarette of this century' said game designer and author Ian Bogost. Just like the surfeit of digital photos, there's too much information and not enough time to go through it all. Observes James Williams of Oxford's Internet Institute Ethics Lab: “The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it doesn’t necessarily protect freedom of attention. There wasn’t really anything obstructing people’s attention at the time it was written. Back in an information-scarce environment, the role of a newspaper was to bring you information—your problem was lacking it. Now it’s the opposite. We have too much.”

Is the economy suffering from the crisis of attention? Statistics already show that we're scatterbrained 47% of the time. We're there, but not there noticing the present; we're just scrolling. This is on top of smartphone addiction which kills productivity. Beware that rectangular magnetic glow!

How to unthink. One of the ways you can stem the tide of over-thinking is to act “calculatedly stupid” and instead try to enjoy what we’re doing.

Thought of the week

“All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

Ernest Hemingway

New track on loop

Smerz – No Harm (2017)

Digging in the crates

Ultramagnetic MC's – Poppa Large (1992)

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!
Wells Baum (@bombtune)

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Tech is ‘the cigarette of this century’

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Photo by Ludovic Toinel

Technology undermines human willpower by stealing our attention and supercharging information distribution. We are stuck in a gif loop of variable rewards while bombarded with trivial “breaking” news.

We can't escape the ‘hypnotic effect' of digital stimuli because it's got us hooked. We are stuck in destabilizing habits that resist self-regulation. Like lemmings, we keep coming back for more. Writes Nir Eyal:

“Ubiquitous access to the web, transferring greater amounts of personal data at faster speeds than ever before, has created a more potentially addictive world. According to famed Silicon Valley investor Paul Graham, we haven’t had time to develop societal “antibodies to addictive new things.” Graham places responsibility on the user: “Unless we want to be canaries in the coal mine of each new addiction— the people whose sad example becomes a lesson to future generations— we’ll have to figure out for ourselves what to avoid and how.”


Profiting from all distraction are companies that offer free services in exchange for advertising. Facebook, Google, et al. have turned their users' eyeballs into lab experiments for clicks where humans get lost in a zoo of status updates and amplification. We show zero restraint to our technology vices, what professor Ian Bogost calls the ‘cigarette of this century.'

How do humans push back against addictive technology?

Computers intend to make our lives better, what Steve Jobs called, “bicycles for the mind.” What he didn't foresee is the rapidity of change. Even radio and tv took time to evolve. What we're experiencing now in the internet-era is hyper-speed beyond human comprehension.


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A reversal of fortunes

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via giphy

We are in an age of dumbness, where going forward means going back to the ugliness of man: a lack of reasoning, a suffering of fools, a mockery of politics as entertainment.

The internet released information from the prison of expertise, but it also unleashed amateurs who spread misinformation and conspiracy theories. While we write the future with technology, the rotten eggs abuse it to cast their primordial nature.

The truth never expires. Neither does the awe of human intelligence when used for the benefit of all mankind.


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Staring into distraction 📲

The smartphone is a vehicle for distraction.

Statistics show that smartphone distraction kills productivity, on top of the fact that we're already scatterbrained: our minds wander 47% of the time.

The phone is also a bandaid for anxiety. We cradle the device like a baby, holding it in anticipation of the next buzz so we tend to its loneliness and release ourselves from the maw of boredom.

How can we live in the now if we’re stuck in a ludic loop, anticipating the next variable reward in a perpetual bottomless feed? We are forever hooked to staring into a rectangular glow of external stimuli, caught between texts, shopping lists, and other mind-grabbing dopamine stimulants.

Digital hijacks human attention, giving us the memory of a fish. Even the slightest act of noticing helps us step outside the aquarium to avoid the social imitations of mindlessness.


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Newsletter: When computers looked like refrigerators

Below are five links I think you'll find interesting. As always, listen to a new tune and old gem after the jump.

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Louis John Rhead, 1894 (via The Met)

The Female Supercomputer Designer Who Inspired Steve Jobs. Product designer and mechanical engineer Tamiko Thiel turned computers into sculptures in the early 1980s before the Macintosh came out. Said Thiel: “The general image of computers was IBM computers, racks of electronics. They looked like refrigerators or heating units. They didn’t have any identity.” Steve Jobs wanted to hire her, but Thiel had already gone on to Germany to be an artist.

The beginning of silent reading changed Westerners’ interior life. Reading alone didn’t really take off until the 1800s. Before that, all pages were read aloud in groups. “Text technologies, like moveable type, and the rise of vernacular writing helped usher in the practice we cherish today: taking in words without saying them aloud, letting them build a world in our heads.”

Related: Before Amazon, we had bookmobiles.

The pioneer of Dadaism who made collage cool. The only way for painter Max Ernst to make sense of a fractured postwar world was to start collaging, taking pieces of disparate items from fashion magazines and other miscellaneous materials and incorporating them into his work.

Video: Different types of chopsticks, explained. People have been eating with chopsticks since the 4th century BC. Historian Edward Wang describes why the chopsticks in China, Japan, and Korea are all unique.

Video: Art+Film /// David Hockney IN THE NOW. David Hockney is a British artist who’s become known as the ‘the painter of Southern California.’ Says Hockney on the perpetual need to notice:, “Our eyes never stay still. If your eyes are still, you’re dead.”

Thought of the week

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” ― Sigmund Freud

New track on loop

Beat Spacek – Ring Di Alarm (2017)

Digging in the crates

Mal Waldron – All Alone (1966)

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!
Wells Baum (@bombtune)


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At the mercy of automation

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Photo by Wells Baum

We move unconsciously through life at the mercy of automation.

Plugged in, always on, absorbed in the energy of an internal lighthouse, blind to our own self-care.

The human instant suffers from too much closeupness, leaving little time to zone out. Time runs deep between canyons. Water flows patiently over rocks. The urge to speed up silences the music still in us.

We’re rhythmic creatures who make reality, not ones to be stuck and consumed by it. The new script requires that we think before we act. The robot is already preprogrammed and ready.


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Why there are three types of chopsticks

People have been eating with chopsticks since the 4th century BC. In the below video, historian Edward Wang explains why the chopsticks in China, Japan, and Korea are all unique:

To summarize:

  • The Chinese developed longer chopsticks in the 10th century to share food. Sitting around tables, they needed an extended utensil to reach dishes further away.
  • The Japanese used smaller chopsticks because they believed in maintaining a spiritual cleanliness. Japan's chopsticks are also pointier because they eat more fish which allows for easier removal of bones.
  • Koreans have been using metal utensils since the 7th century; historically, to avoid arsenic poisoning from perceived enemies. The chopsticks are also flatter and more durable, which saves material and makes them tougher for Korean BBQ.

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