The Connection Machine that 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”

Years later she found out that Steve Jobs wanted to hire her to design the NeXT computer. But she had already gone on to Germany to be an artist.

Nevertheless, her geometric reinterpretation of the computer continues to inspire the modern yet futuristic hardware designs we see in iPhones and gadgets today.

The Connection Machine machine now features in MOMA’s exhibition Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989.

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The freedom of unforced attention

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gif by Wells Baum

We end up aligning with nature’s intent. We see the world through the lens we grow up with. We are the products of our environment, the sum total of our existence.

Yet, we can become a variety of human. We can develop an expanded toolset that includes others. We can shut off stray thoughts and ignore droll distractions, replacing them with dreams of boredom. However, we stay light and loose.

We set the brain roaming with no clear destination in mind, only a feeling of intuition. The freedom of unforced attention makes harmony in the auditory wilderness. The brain functions in a mysterious way to find parity between the blind and the deaf.

‘Everybody sees it coming, but no one wants to talk about it’ 🐎🚗📱

There inevitably comes a time when our ideas, no matter how prolific, become extinct and get replaced by new ones. Just look at the emergence of autonomous cars. Writes former product head of General Motors Bob Lutz:

“The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile.”


There will always be a niche of traditionalists that want hands-on control, just as people still prefer to read hard books, string a brilliant guitar riff, and think with their hands in writing analog.

But the volcano of ideas are all digital. As Lutz quips: “I think probably everybody sees it coming, but no one wants to talk about it.”

There is no cart, there is no horse, there is no wheel. As Steve Jobs once discovered in Scientific American: “The man riding a bicycle was twice as good as the condor.” Humans build tools to maximize efficiency.

Sean Parker: Facebook exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology”

Social platforms are casinos, and likes, replies, comments, shares, etc. are the poker chips. We are addicted to social currency on top of our psychological desire to solve for loneliness.

The main reason I blog is to get away from the hyper-activeness and dopamine-hitting fast food of social media, so I can slow down and gather my thoughts.

How often do you get stuck in the ludic loop?

The smartphone functions as a proxy for personal identity 

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The smartphone is an extension of the body. We know when we lose it because we feel empty without it.

“Though its precise dimensions may vary with fashion, a smartphone is fundamentally a sandwich of aluminosilicate glass, polycarbonate and aluminum sized to sit comfortably in the adult hand, and to be operated, if need be, with the thumb only. This requirement constrains the device to a fairly narrow range of shapes and sizes; almost every smartphone on the market at present is a blunt slab, a chamfered or rounded rectangle between eleven and fourteen centimeters tall, and some six to seven wide. These compact dimensions permit the device to live comfortably on or close to the body, which means it will only rarely be misplaced or forgotten, and this in turn is key to its ability to function as a proxy for personal identity, presence and location.”

Read A Sociology of the Smartphone

‘The zoo is the epitaph to a relationship’

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“The zoo is the epitaph to a relationship,” once wrote John Berger. And while this analogy pertains to human domestication of animals in faux environments, it also serves as a metaphor for the fragility of today’s human bonds.

We are alone together separated by a fence of technology. We sit next to each other but share our true thoughts online, hiding behind the protective masks of our glowing devices. We emphasize the “I” without the confidence to look at each other eye to eye.

Combine this narcissistic phenomenon with the hyper-speed race to the bottom of name-calling and provoked antagonism plus the inability to focus on one issue at a time and we lose all sense of objectivity. Compassion, respect, and gratitude vanish into artifacts of the past.

How do we build ourselves back up? For starters, we can slow down and cultivate human decency. After all, we’re all in this together. Recall that the birds turned into fishes only out of the urge of curiosity.

Seeking an objective point of view

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Photo by Wells Baum

We are obsessed with the first-person because we live in a culture that emphasizes the individual. The selfie generation makes “I” the predominant jargon for almost everything we post on social media and talk about in real life.

Me-ness has shrouded our ability to step outside the self and see the world objectively. It’s not all about us. We view ourselves in the reflection of other people. The looking glass self is external. Writes Adam Price in defense of third person.


It worries me that we may be slowly losing the cultural ability or inclination to tell stories in third person. Why does this matter? Because, I believe, third-person narration is the greatest artistic tool humans have devised to tell the story of what it means to be human.

“I think therefore I am.”

Our inner-narrative predicts how we’ll act in real life. It controls the outer stage of actions. As narrators, we can be more thoughtful of how to talk to about ourselves despite the egotism reinforced by the dizzying pace of status updates. We find deeper meaning when we can see and express a world bigger than ourselves.

We constantly divide our attention between the first- and third-person points of view, between desiring the shiny object in front of us and figuring out what it means for us to take it: who else wants it, what we have to do to get it, and whether it’s worth taking it from them.

In Defense of Third Person

Google Photos uses facial recognition to identify your dogs and cats

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Photo by Wells Baum

If you’re looking for the best photo-backup service, look no further than Google Photos. Not only does it free up phone space, it creates gifs, adds filters, and stitches images together for you using the magic of artificial intelligence. In the age of image surfeit, Google Photos has been a blessing in disguise, helping people decide what to post or share with friends and family. But today’s news is by far my favorite.

Using its human face identification technology, Google can now detect individual cats and dogs instead of bunching all the animals together. It can even narrow results down to a specific breed. You can also search by or  emojis.

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It’s about time pets got some recognition. See what I did there 😉

Words still matter 


There was a moment when marketers thought words didn’t matter, that the future was speaking through images.

But then everybody’s images started looking the same. The Instagram feed looked like a giant pile of sameness where anyone could be a photographer and upload a beautiful picture.

Snapchat then ushered in the video game and all of a sudden, copycats followed. Facebook’s algorithm started to favor video. Instagram introduced Stories and Live. People could share their thoughts without a keyboard.


But if there’s anything Twitter shows us, words matter more than ever. The US president and the ‘rocket man’ tease nuclear war. While images and video are propaganda, it is words that beget action; they are volatile, easily copy-pasted and bent into echo chambers to paint fraudulent stories of intent.

If we want to awe someone, we choose static and moving images. But if we ‘re going to poke someone, we select text.

Words are game changers. Not only do they provide context to an empty visual, but they also control the inner-narrative that ultimately influences external decisions. Choose them with care.

Teju Cole on the flood of images in a mobile-first world

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Photo by Wells Baum

There is a photograph coming at you every few seconds, and hype is the lingua franca. It has become hard to stand still, wrapped in the glory of a single image, as the original viewers of old paintings used to do. The flood of images has increased our access to wonders and at the same time lessened our sense of wonder. We live in inescapable surfeit.

— Teju Cole, from ‘Finders Keepers’ in Known and Strange Things

Remembering Steve Jobs: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’ 📱

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Steve Jobs died six years ago today. He was 56 years old. His uniqueness, unconventional leadership, and big-picture thinking will never be forgotten.

Jobs made tech fashionable. He made sure to remind us that we are the creators.

Below are some of my favorite Jobs’ quotes.

“Make something wonderful, and put it out there.”

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.’

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Make it new

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“Reality is an activity of the most august imagination,” said poet Wallace Stevens.

What we call reality emerged from human ingenuity. So if we can take today’s tools and use them for good we’ll naturally have a better future.

Instead, we are building technology that paints a future dystopia. Hackers hijacked Facebook, Google, and Twitter and filled them with fake news during the 2016 election. What did we think was going to happen with free-flowing information? “The art of debugging a computer program is to figure out what you really told the computer to do instead of what you thought you told it to do,” quipped Andrew Singer, director of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois. Meanwhile, Amazon is replacing its workers with bots.

While we can expect software manipulation to continue, there are still reasons to be hopeful. As Tim O’Reilly points out, we should be looking at ways to work with artificial intelligence to fuel productivity and innovation.


We have to make it new. That’s a wonderful line from Ezra Pound that’s always stuck in my brain: “Make it new.” It’s not just true in literature and in art, it’s in our social conscience, in our politics. We have look at the world as it is and the challenges that are facing us, and we have to throw away the old stuck policies where this idea over here is somehow inescapably attached to this other idea. Just break it all apart and put it together in new ways, with fresh ideas and fresh approaches.

We have a choice: we can deny optimism and permit darkness or we can build a brighter future. For every time Google chooses to be evil, or Facebook invades our privacy in an attempt to make stockholders happy, there’s another rocket Elon Musk is building that takes us from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for, as experiments should continue to be encouraged. The real question is how can we create a society for both rapid technological advancement and reflexive sociopolitical change. How do ‘we make it new’ without throwing out the stuff that made it good in the first place?

Let the internet empower you

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Everyone waits for the web to come to them. Such passiveness means that humans leave their decision-making up to algorithms. But don’t hide behind the machines; look yourself in the eyes as you would others and pick yourself to succeed.

The internet could save you feeling stuck. It liberates the amateur photographer or writer from holding back on their interests and tastes and instead encourages them to show the world their art. The barrier between consumer and maker is thinner than ever.


Don’t wait for the internet to come to you. Use it proactively to stumble into new worlds that inspire you to recast what you think you already know. Experiment with its distribution and feedback.

The internet is a tool you use to make stuff. Just as code changes, you too can sense patterns and update your skill set through trial and error. There’s no reason to shy away from individual oddities; feel free to trespass your fear by getting some skin in the game too.

We look at things twice 👁📱

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gif by Wells Baum

We look at things twice, once in reality and then with our third eye, the mobile phone.

We take photos to remember, literally cut and paste the external world into our devices to be stored as bits of data.

While an image can be reproduced to infinity, its lifespan is ephemeral. We collect moments wherever go only to be consumed and quickly forgotten.

Images spill into our cameras and out into a vapid Instagram wall while the viewer drowns in abundance, no match for the chaos.

It’s no coincidence that those who stand out are doing the opposite of what everyone is doing by taking a pause.