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

F062E69F-328F-4E0B-AA56-D845862E56F0.jpg
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

Advertisements

Bending genres

1326AF5B-7E4F-48FB-8D8D-F1A9BC14995B.jpg
Photo by Wells Baum (Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors)

Nothing is original, nor is it copy-pasted. But innovation is a remix, a mash-up of findings, widgets, and opinions.

There is no solitary genius but the product of scenius — network thinking — educating each other, sharing in pairs and stealing ideas and scraps from each other to formulate something new.

We are the product of our environment and our own creative solitude. Blending disciplines, the plurality of ideas, is the upshot of our conversation with others just as much as it is ourselves.

Newsletter: What’s your favorite number?

20292650_867403070101409_5175724685813387282_n.jpg
Painters suspended on the Brooklyn bridge, October 1914 (Eugene de Salignac)

Hi all, I hope everyone had a chance to check out the solar eclipse this week. I saw it at 81% totality from DC. Those lucky enough to experience the total eclipse will appreciate Annie Dillard’s essay below.

New music this week comes this way courtesy of Thundercat. Ry Cooder takes the crate.

web gems

  1. Autistic author Naoki Higashida provides a beautiful answer to the question: What’s your favorite number?

  2. In celebration of the solar eclipse, The Atlantic republished Annie Dillard’s epic piece on her encounter with a total eclipse in 1982. “We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.”

  3. “When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” Robert Frank is best known for his 1958 book The Americans which featured 83 photos from Frank’s journey across the U.S. documenting race and material consumption in American life.

  4. Life coach David Cain provides an intriguing solution to avoid experiencing anxiety in advance: When You Can’t Stop Looking Ahead, Look Backwards

  5. If you want your food to taste better, take a picture.

Thought of the week

“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.”

— Marcus Aurelius


New track on loop

Thundercat – Jethro

Digging in the crates

Ry Cooder – Soy Luz y Sombra

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

Wells Baum (@bombtune)

Support my blog

Your support goes a long way: for every contributed dollar, I can keep the blog running and continue to provide you interesting links.

$1.00

To err is human

giphy (1).gif
gif via kidmograph

Technology evolves. Customer expectations change. Facebook tweaks its algorithm, again! All strategies and proven methods are temporary.

The pragmatist is always looking for a better way while following the practices that already work.

But there’s no way to identify what works without identifying what doesn’t work first. Strive a little toward imperfection.

Trial and error is the essence of survival. Consider doubling down on efforts that are showing promise.

We must remain in beta.

Developing a clear and focused mind

giphy (23)
via giphy

If we don’t pay attention — keep our eyes on the donut rather than the donut hole — we’ll lose the plot. Said the stoic Marcus Aurelius in his journal Meditations:

“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.”

If we don’t stop and smell the flowers, our mind will follow the latest obsessive thought or get stuck in the ludic loop of Twitter or Instagram.


In such an environment that values speed over infinite improvement, we need to force ourselves to pause, to step outsides ourselves and to detach from the closeness of our own world in order to cultivate a more objective narrative.

Read The journal of Marcus Aurelius is essential reading if you want a clear and focused mind

The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life

9780316348706_p0_v3_s1200x630 What if we could be, or at least feel like we were on vacation all the time?

That vibe is at the core of Laurence Shorter’s new book The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life, a book he wrote by being bored out of his mind.

Instead of practicing mindfulness and meditation, Shorter took 3 months off let his brain just wander, taking walks and unplugging from the internet, just waiting until an idea struck him. That idea was drawing.

Since releasing his book, he’s developed some core tenets that are central to his philosophy of living in relaxation mode.

“To live life not just in pursuit of our dreams, but as if we have already achieved them. To put it plainly, I am declaring myself on permanent vacation: relaxed, at ease, creative — always.

In his manifesto, he outlines three ways to help inculcate the feeling of doneness.

1. Don’t try to fix things

2. If you can’t be bothered with something, there’s always a good reason

3. Give yourself space

As I wrote a few months ago, we try too hard. We push ourselves for no reason other than to live up to the habit of always being on. As Shorter puts it, “We live in a world obsessed by action and success. And in a world hooked on action, the only way to be different is to stop.”

We need to be more like the tortoise rather than the hare. It’s not for lack of care, but in slowing down, disconnecting, and not letting the small things eat away at us, we’re able to liberate our sense of fulfillment and unleash our creative thinking selves.

 

Competence without imagination 🤖

2EB16A70-BE1F-4C1C-A434-ED4D7F7320A6.jpg
Photo by Wells Baum

The machine is a perfection of man, one that aggregates all simulations and chooses the best possibility at the right time. AI also gets smarter with each mistake it makes in a type of machine learning called reinforcement learning.

Humans can’t learn and execute actions as fast as their robot counterparts can. Our neuronal chips are already at brain capacity, no matter how many amphetamines we take to speed them up.

So what do we do when we’re rendered jobless?

For starters, we’ll have a bunch of time on our hands to do other stuff, constructing innovative things that robots can’t predict. After all, we’re the ones biologically wired to random thoughts, chaotic imaginations, and combinatorial creativity.

We’re all weird

we_are_all_weird
We’re All Weird by Seth Godin

Inspired by Alain de Button’s tweet, below is a collection of highlights of the word weird from Seth Godin’s 2011 book, We’re All Weird.

Weird by choice, on the other hand, flies in the face of the culture of mass and the checklist of normal.

The epic battle of our generation is between the status quo of mass and the never-ceasing tide of weird.

It’s human nature to be weird, but also human to be lonely. This conflict between fitting in and standing out is at the core of who we are.

The way of the world is now more information, more choice, more freedom, and more interaction. And yes, more weird.

The weird are weird because they’ve foregone the comfort and efficiency of mass and instead they’re forming smaller groups, groups where their weirdness is actually expected.

The next breakthroughs in our productivity and growth aren’t going to be about fueling mass. They’re going to be relentlessly focused on amplifying the weird.

Pre-historic cultures, not nearly as productive as ours, show little evidence of the weirdness our culture has recently developed.

When you don’t feel alone, it’s easier to be weird, which sort of flies in the face of our expectation that the weird individual is also a loner.

We don’t care so much about everyone; we care about us—where us is our people, our tribe, our interest group, our weirdness—not the anonymous masses.

The weird are now more important than the many, because the weird are the many.

There’s a long tail of channels, and at least one matches every person’s precise definition of weirdness (if there’s no match, go ahead and start another channel).

My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead, find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way.

It’s human nature to be weird, but also human to be lonely. This conflict between fitting in and standing out is at the core of who we are.

On criticism

source (5)
via giphy

The doer wants acknowledgment for their work. They want people to scream their hosannas. But criticism is democratic.

Not everyone likes Radiohead’s last album. Every Trump tweet draws liberal contestants. Where you fall in the Messi versus Ronaldo or Jordan versus Lebron debate could be a preference based on your birth date. Opines 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.”

As an artist, athlete, CEO, US president, some criticism is better than none at all. My newest book Train of Thought has zero reviews. I’d rather have one star and a bad review just to confirm that someone had a look.

Criticism is integral to an informed democracy. Even the maker is a critic. Their rebuttals are neither valid nor invalid but mere reason. Conversely, the reviewer is also a professional; even a stream of invective is a manifestation of analysis and interpretation.

Perhaps it is the inner-critic that is the most annoying of all. It’s the one that wants both artist and analyst to say and do nothing but remain in a state of paralysis.

What’s most important therefore is the opinion itself. Consent is an illusion reserved for lemmings. Now feel free to criticize this post in the comments below.

Rediscover this day: The Grand Central Astronaut

Photo by Wells Baum

One of my favorite features on Google Photos is ‘Rediscover This Day.’ It’ll crawl through your image library and collate a series of images from the same day years ago.

The feature isn’t new; Timehop popularized the retrospective social media feature years ago. However, Facebook and Google Photos were able to scale it.

So what does this have to do with the astronaut?

I snapped this image two years ago but forgot about it. Remember what Om Malik said: “We take too many photos and little time looking at them.” Two years in the smartphone era is like a decade!

What I enjoy about this picture other than the rarity of seeing an astronaut in Grand Central Station is the black and white contrast which makes the spaceman the center of attention. The crowd is noticeable but almost out of focus. The original color version doesn’t have the same noticeable impact.

“Nothing is my last word on anything.”

henry james.png

In an interview with The Paris Review, Susan Sontag revealed what helped her get motivated to write:

Getting started is partly stalling, stalling by way of reading and of listening to music, which energizes me and also makes me restless. Feeling guilty about not writing. There’s a wonderful remark of Henry James: “Nothing is my last word on anything.” There’s always more to be said, more to be felt.

We’re never finished, only stalling. Postponement, aka the Zeigarnik Effect is a catalyst for productivity.

A professional author may complete books but the act of writing resumes.

Newsletter: The History of Nostalgia, The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed, new tunes from Yasmine Hamdan and more

63.350.202.38.38
Schreiber’s Hummingbird, from Birds of the Tropics series (N38) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes (1889) : The MET

Arts and Culture

Maria Loh On Lives Of Artists

We may live in the age of selfie but we’ve always been self-absorbed. Maria Loh, author of Still Lives: Death, Desire, and the Portrait of the Old Masteroutlines five books which address the history of the curated self with an emphasis on artists who painted their own portraits to cement their legacy.

“Art was a form of visual philosophy written with brushes and chisels rather than with pen and ink”

fivebooks.com

+ Before the self-portrait, the rise of ownership of mirrors in the 15th century gave people their first feeling of individuality.

Look back with danger

Nostalgia didn’t always have a positive tone. In fact, before the 20th century, the word was used in the pejorative sense.

Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”.

the_tls.co

Philosophy & Productivity

The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed

It’s crazy to think that a hundred years after the Adamson Act passed, we’re still working the same eight-hour shifts designed for railroad workers. Given that most of us work in front of computers and our best ideas come when we step outside it, how can we free up more time to think? Writes Morgan Housel:

“Tell your boss you found a trick that will make you more creative and productive, and they ask what you’re waiting for. Tell them that your trick is taking a 90-minute walk in the middle of the day, and they says no, you need to work.”

collaborativefund.com

Platonically irrational

We think modernity is superior to the past. But we too can be intellectually overconfident. “When Kahneman writes that we are ‘blind to our blindness’, he is reviving the Socratic idea that wisdom consists in seeing one’s blindness: knowing what you do not know.” Within all facts and reasoning, there’s still a little room for doubt.

This is only a preliminary step in Plato’s dialogues – a (good-natured) reaching after fact and reason should and does occur – but an initial tolerance of uncertainty is a capacity without which individuals and societies cannot adequately self-correct and improve. 

aeon.com

Social Media & Technology

Notes From An Emergency

The internet companies are not only American-based, but their manifest destiny also makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.

“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security. But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

idlewords.com

The Library of Congress Wants to Destroy Your Old CDs (for Science)

CDs were once expensive, plastic things. But they were built really cheap. I just tried popping on an old Chemical Brothers mix, and it didn’t even play. Blame the sharpie.

It’s also better not to muck up the top of your CDs with labels—the adhesive creates chemical reactions that quickly eat up data—or even permanent markers. “The moment you start to write on that top layer, you’re setting yourself up for degradation.”

theatlantic.com

Digging in the Crates

shanti-184-770x513 (1)

Shanti Celeste is an up and coming house producer from Bristol, England. Her latest 2-track EP features the jungle healer ‘Make Time,’ combining a rich collection of synths and electronic breaks. A real treat.

Listen

17545342_1032753060157788_9164693181444430355_o (1)

Yasmine Hamdan is a Parisian-based electronic musician who grew up in war-torn Lebanon. While’s she gained a reputation in the Middle East as an underground artist, her latest solo record Al Jamilat plans to unleash her to a broader audience. The track ‘La Ba’den’ offers dreamy electronic Arab vibes. Compelling stuff.

Listen

Thought of the Week

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


For more interesting reads and new music, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or the Twitter feed. You can also subscribe to the blogs: wellsbaum.blog and bombtune.comIf you dig the blogs and want to support them, make a donation, buy a book, or email this post to a friend.

Storytelling released humans from the prison of biology

liz-bridges-74733

We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.

You can never, for example, convince a chimpanzee to do something for you by promising that, “Look, after you die, you will go to chimpanzee heaven and there you will receive lots and lots of bananas for your good deeds here on earth, so now do what I tell you to do.”

But humans do believe such stories and this is the basic reason why we control the world whereas chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

— Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The mind helped humans escape the prison of biology but not all of its fabrications; some of us still think a map represents the territory and that the Earth is flat.