Making for the micro

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People always made art. Now, we just make it and share it in abundance.

But all the noise makes it impossible for aspiring creators to stand out.

On the flip side, the bell curve is widening from the masses to the niches. We can build an audience around sub-genres at scale for the first time ever; the Internet helps us stay connected.

Once we shift our strategy from marketing to everyone to the marketing to the micro, we set ourselves up to make deeper work that lasts.

Your weirdness is not only acceptable, it’s mainstream.

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Newsletter: Against conventional thinking

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Hi everyone, below is a list of links worth checking out this week. If you’d like to receive this email in your inbox, subscribe right here and never miss an issue.

web gems

  1. The above GIF represents 6 million years of human evolution. But the video is even more psychedelic. Watch it from the start.

  2. “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way. ”It was Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday this week. His work seems ever more relevant in the age of distraction and climate change deniers.

  3. “Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy.” That’s how economist Nassim Taleb describes the Lindy Effect which predicts the durability of books, restaurants, etc lasting years from now. Ryan Holiday details the art of longevity in his new book Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts

  4. I shared this a while ago but it’s worth rereading in the Google Era: How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet

  5. From marketing to making decisions, Vice-Chairman Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy gives us a lot to chew on in Things To Hang On Your Mental Mug Tree. Watch it with your favorite morning brew.

New Track on loop

Ross From Friends — Romeo Romeo

Digging in the crates

Twinkle Brothers – Faith Can Move Mountains (1983)

Thought of the week

“If you say the name Andrew over and over it turns into Duran Duran. Try it.” — Doug Copeland

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

Wells Baum (@bombtune)

 


This is my daily collection of interesting reads and new music. I spend a lot of time digging the web for cool stuff and remixing them here. If you dig the blog, please consider making a donation or buying a book. A cup of coffee to helping out with hosting goes a long way.

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When ugly is beautiful

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In a selfie-obsessed world, it pays to be ugly. Fashion houses across the world make eye-cringing designs on purpose. The crazier, the better.

Says Prada’s head fashion designer Miuccia Prada“The investigation of ugliness is, to me, more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty. And why? Because ugly is human. It touches the bad and the dirty side of people.”

Why do people love using Snapchat over other social media services? Because it celebrates authenticity. When people try to be real, they can be flawed, which is relatable.

Beautiful gets boring. Ugly is pervasive and unforgettable. It stands out with a clear message.

Balenciaga nailed ugly when it designed clothes inspired by the Bernie Sanders logo.

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Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images
Gucci’s Dapper Dan jacket is an attempt to throw back to an era of displeasing design.

 

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Photo via NYTimes

People preferred Madona when she displayed her natural gap tooth. Ugly is about breaking the rules and doing things a little different. Models never smile on the runway because they want to be unshakeable.

But people view the world as it relates to them. Letting go of perfection and designing for ugly creates a sense of communion with the viewer.

The shipping high 

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It took nearly two hundred years to build the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Those who built it never saw it finished. Now we can 3-D print a building in 17 days, like “baking a cake and applying whip cream on it.

The Notre Dame is still around while most buildings will be destroyed and rebuilt. The same goes for media: pictures, books, music, and blog posts.

We are making too much stuff and not spending enough time enjoying it. Consumption is ephemeral; information is fast food. Writes Ben Callahan for Offscreen Magazine:

“Ray Kurzweil wrote about the Law of Accelerating Returns back in 2001, suggesting that the rate of technological evolution grows exponentially. This means we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century. It will be more like 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate. His work explains why we can build amazing structures faster today than ever before. What it doesn’t explain is how this impacts us as makers: how the immediacy with which we can create changes us.”

The urge to keep making, to keep shipping, means more creations will be forgotten and therefore less likely to be timeless.

A brain without a body

Artificial intelligence is like a brain without a body. Instead of billions of neurons, computers contain bits and bytes of varying voltage levels so it can do stuff like provide directions or beat humans at chess.

Deep Blue beat Kasparov not by matching his insight and intuition but by overwhelming him with blind calculation. Thanks to years of exponential gains in processing speed, combined with steady improvements in the efficiency of search algorithms, the computer was able to comb through enough possible moves in a short enough time to outduel the champion.

Machines have faster processors. Even the most effective Ritalin in the world would leave a person at a loss. Yet, AI is a factory of nothingness without human programming. It is ‘competent without comprehension,’ although the human mind often falls guilty to automatic pilot.

The future superhuman will no doubt combine the two to make a cyborg.  We’re a brain chip away from the computer-powered brain, scampering closer to a new culture of memes galore.

 

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Newsletter: ‘Find the torture you’re comfortable with’

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Harper’s: July Edward Penfield (1866–1925): The MET

web gems

1

Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination

Procrastination is the purest form of idleness. Our brain’s neurons ultimately dictate what we decide to do. “Who you are depends on what your neurons are up to, moment by moment,” writes David Eagleman in his book The Brain: The Story of You.

We are stuck between thinking and action, for which we have little choice but to finish what we conjure up in our minds or actualize in real life. “The procrastinator is both contemplator and man of action, which is the worst thing to be, and which is tearing him apart.” Humanities professor and author Costica Bradatan explains why procrastination is more than doing nothing.

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2

From Ptolemy to GPS, the Brief History of Maps

One of the oldest surviving maps (the Babylonian Map of the World) is “about the size and shape of an early iPhone.” While maps continue to guide us, they also exploited to drive conquest, gentrification, taxes, and voting polls.also have always lied. To quote the author Mark Monmonier of How to Lie With Map, “No map entirely tells the truth. There’s always some distortion, some point of view.”

Smithsonianmag.com

3

How to Live With Critics (Whether You’re an Artist or the President)

Criticism is democratic, integral to an informed democracy. Argues literary critic and poet Adam Kirsch: “Everyone brings his or her own values and standards to the work of judging. This means that it is also, essentially, democratic. No canon of taste or critical authority can compel people to like what they don’t like.”

nytimes.com

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Schedule Nothing

“We like lists because we don’t want to die,” said Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco. But in the age of digital distraction, we make records of things we’ll simply never complete. This cartoon explains why.

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5

Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: ‘The End of Advertising’

“Devoid of advertising, television was elevated to arguably the world’s most relevant mass art form.” Former advertising executive Andrew Essex tells the story about the dual nature of today’s ads, following the example of Bayer which developed both aspirin and heroin in 1898.

nytimes.com

quote of the week

“Your blessing in life is when you find the torture you’re comfortable with.”

Jerry Seinfeld


digging in the crates

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  1. Laurence Guy – Wichita Falls
  2. Laurence Guy – Drum Is A Woman (feat. Steve Spacek)
  3. Rothadam – I Was Born To Be A Rebel
  4. Bruce – Before You Sleep
  5. Sudan Archives – Come Meh Way

LISTEN


I spend a lot of time digging the web for cool stuff and remixing it here. If you dig the blog, please consider making a donation or buying a book. A cup of coffee to helping out with hosting goes a long way.

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Obligate users

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We don’t have a choice as to how to check out: it’s either cash or credit card. Soon enough it’ll be standard practice to pay using only our phones.

In the technology world, change is persistent. But new developments never spread as fast as we think.

In the case of digital checkout, it assumes that both seller and buyer own devices that can talk to each other. It took the most popular coffee shop in the world to introduce the phone as a wallet.

Like magnets, we are obligated to stick to mainstream systems. But new habits usher in new problems. We buy in excess on Amazon Prime because of the ease of checkout. Meanwhile, hackers can splinter daily operations with an injection of malicious code.

‘No one does it that way anymore’ is only good until the lights go out. Obligate users attuned to computer technology also risk the domino effect of its inter-connected destruction. A broken system is no longer smart.

Trust your internal compass

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One of the oldest surviving maps (the Babylonian Map of the World) is “about the size and shape of an early iPhone.” But it too was artifice and spin.

“The map is not the territory, said Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski. Maps are deceiving representations of reality. To quote the author Mark Monmonier of How to Lie With Map, “No map entirely tells the truth. There’s always some distortion, some point of view.”

Maps drive conquest, gentrification, taxes, and voting polls. Google Maps, as Google does, gives us the turn-by-turn directions to a final destination. But we trust GPS a little too much yet remain frustrated and bewildered when the software leads us into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Rhode Island.

And we thought Google had all the answers! Blame the humans, not the machines.

Faulty computer intelligence reminds humans that our devices are imperfect just like us and that perhaps, we should continue to leverage our internal compass.

Don’t confuse social media with your diary

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Authenticity is the bread and butter of developing an attractive online persona. People relate to users that share bits of their personal lives.

But a lot of people confuse social media with their diary. The viewer cringes at over-admissions of vulnerability. Too much info!

What followers want are real stories, not overly planned content, digital manipulation, sympathy-provoking posts, and canned responses.

“Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.”

Neil Gaiman

The world already has enough actors and curated lives that entertain and inspire. It’s a relief to see people that act off-screen like they do offline.

Ludic loop

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via Reddit
In his blog post on breaking phone addictionErik Barker uses a quote from NYU marketing and psychology professor Adam Antler to explain why we keep checking our phones again and again. The process is called a “ludic loop.”

The “ludic loop” is this idea that when you’re engaged in an addictive experience, like playing slot machines, you get into this lulled state of tranquility where you just keep doing the thing over and over again. It just becomes the comfortable state for you. You don’t stop until you’re shaken out of that state by something.

So how we do we keep ourselves from going down the Facebook and Instagram rabbit hole? We employ a “stopping rule.”

t’s a rule that says at this point it’s time for me to stop. It breaks the reverie and makes you think of something else; it gets you outside of the space you’ve been in. The best thing to do is to use a declarative statement like, “I don’t watch more than two episodes of a show in a row, that’s just not who I am.”

As Barker points, you can also remove the dopamine hitting apps from your phone and replace them with something useful like the Kindle app to encourage more reading. And in the worst case scenario, you can throw your phone into the ocean, or just leave it in an inconvenient place to prevent the urge to take another futile gamble.

Taking an inner evaluation

 

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Photo by Wells Baum

 

We communicate through smartphones incessantly because we can’t stand the thought of talking to ourselves. We reserve all our inner chatter for an outer narrative.  Technology critic Sven Birkerts wrote in his 1994 book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age:

Everything in contemporary society discourages interiority. More and more of our exchanges take place via circuits, and in their very nature those interactions are such as to keep us hovering in the virtual now, a place away from ourselves.

On top of this, we hire and create our own bots to inflate our ego. The President is perhaps the most guilty of this.

Social media is a chaotic popularity contest where we forfeit authenticity and opt instead for the curated life. We keep our ailments offline, with exception to Google where we always admit our fears. Anyone who shares anything is considered an extrovert by default.

Anyone who shares anything online is viewed as an extrovert by default. In fact, inwardness is the impetus for even more sharing. We replace loneliness with tweets and Instagrams to get others to confirm that we exist.

The second we put the phone away boredom and loneliness strike us hard. The best we can do is embrace these moments to remind what was, a knowledge of self.

 

You can quote this

When they asked all graduating seniors to record their favorite quote for the high school yearbook, I pulled one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

Even at that moment, I refused to conform. The irony, of course, is that I used a quote to help express myself.

I still have a love/hate relationship with quotes. They are first and foremost someone else’s thoughts, and while they can motivate us, even relieve us, and sum up how we think, they can often be as cheesy as Pinterest. They make words look trapped in between a prison of quotation marks.

“Quotation marks” de-energize quotes, just as much as using them as substitutes for our own thinking de-individualizes us. Call it cynical, but we’re living in the Internet era–the world’s greatest copy-past machine– where everything can be reduced to a shared tautology.

What if, instead, we listened to ourselves rather than allowing others to validated our neuroses. Quotes are merely thought starters; even children like to originate their own opinion.

“To get across an idea.”

Charles and Ray Eames foretold a society of dizzying pace even before the inundation of mobile screens, interactive billboards, and social media feeds that are so normal today.

As The Met’s video editor Sarah Cowan writes in the Paris Review:

“Their most ambitious multimedia work pushed the capacity of the medium and its platform, as when they designed Think for IBM’s Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair: a spectacular, twenty-two-screen live lecture about problem solving, and America’s first taste of information overload.

But even the Eamses couldn’t have predicted the ubiquitousness of smart technology. Nor could they have imagined a company like Amazon acquiring a grocery store to spread its talons to connect new physical and digital industries.

Below is a fascinating look at the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s as if people and brands coexist to write the future.

The original 176 emoji

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Shigetaka Kurita, gift of NTT DoCoMo

The Museum of Modern Art holds the original 176 emoji, designed by artist Shigetaka Kurita.

From cavemen to Egyptian hieroglyphs, people have been using images to communicate for thousands of years. The language is not new. What is novel is the mobile phone revolution that facilitates it.

Each new technology rebirths the past; giving rise to the way we used to talk to each other. After all, it is language (vocal, written, or drawn) that separates humans from animals and allowed us to evolve. As Daniel Dennet writes in Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds

“Words are the best example of memes, culturally transmitted items that evolve by differential replication—that is, by natural selection.”

Emojis are shortcuts to words. If what’s old always becomes new again, what comes back next?

All the internet’s a stage

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We can all assume that a social media persona is different than that in real life. Writes Jonathan Crossfield in Chief Content Officer Magazine: “Strategy or no strategy, all social media is artifice and spin”

No one is going to post in public what they Google in private. We’d rather tweet about golfing than doing the dishes.

The curated self is an avatar. Celebrities and influencers are no different than you and me: we use social media as a marketing platform.

If social media is edited real life, reality is inauthentic social media. We invent experiences so we can share them. We guide the the mirror to project the best self, even if that piece of content is ephemeral and disappears.

All the world’s an internet stage; as entertainers, we take our authenticity offline.