Coping with ‘the colossal volume of memories’

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In an interview with the Financial Times, Apple lead designer office Jony Ive points to one of the technological conundrums of our time: balancing ease with excess.

“We have such a high-quality camera with us all the time. But it becomes irrelevant if you can’t actually enjoy the photographs you’ve taken. Even 30 years ago there was always a box somewhere containing hundreds and hundreds of photographs. So this isn’t a new problem. What is a new problem is the sheer degree, the colossal volume of memories that we have recorded, and as important as the recording is the way of enjoying what you’ve recorded, and I think that’s something that’s just an ongoing experiment, and it’s an ongoing creative project for us.”

Smartphones make it too easy to capture and even easier to consume photos. Given the profundity of images, we don’t spend enough time reviewing them.

To quote Om Malik: “We have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.”

The age of abundance combined with undeterred distraction poses an interesting creative problem that’s more complicated than storing boxes of photos in the attic, never to be seen again.

gif via Mashable

Wear Space is a cubicle for your face

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Panasonic is developing blinders for your face so you can preserve a “personal psychological space.” The company debuted the item dubbed Wear Space last year at SXSW in Austin. Writes the product website:

As open offices and digital nomads are on the rise, workers are finding it ever more important to have personal space where they can focus. WEAR SPACE instantly creates this kind of personal space – it’s as simple as putting on an article of clothing. The device can be adjusted based on the level of concentration you desire, so it adapts to the various situations you’ll find yourself in.

The device also comes with Bluetooth headphones just in case you want to shun the world, office, or coffee shop out even more.

While these look like ridiculous racehorse blinkers, they could actually be remarkable. Until then, I’ll stick to my scientifically optimized music to help me focus.

A pedestal type of person

The best marketers bake their advertising into their work.

Whether you’re an athlete, an author, or a baker, the product speaks for itself. Your trade either breeds trust and gets shared by others or falls at the wayside.

Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, and Albert Einstein put their money where their mouth is.

But there are of course ways to exaggerate one’s abilities.

David Beckham was a good football player, not great. Karl Lagerfeld is a good designer, but no one amazing. The difference is how these two talk about themselves and strategically elevate their game by raising their awareness platform.

Performance is only half of the story. The other half of the story is what the consumer tells themselves. Buyers acknowledge the artifice but also stand on pedestals they too think they deserve.

Does automation make us less human?

Life on auto-reply

How much of our thought process do we want to relinquish to artificial intelligence?

Even Gmail’s auto-replies takes the burden out of typing in two-word responses with pre-populated text likes “yes, great,” “sounds good,” or “awesome.” Soon enough the computers will be the only ones conversing and high-fiving each other.

Just as the painter imitates the features of nature, algorithms emulate human memes. The problem is the tendency to abuse these recipes to avoid thinking altogether. Bathing in such idleness set the precedent for laggard times.

Without thought and action, our memories will starve. When we type, we produce pixels on a screen. Auto-reply forfeits the experience of being there. But such detachment may not be as harmful as we think. 

The symbiosis of man and machine begs for innovation. AI may free up cognition for other more intensive tasks. In other words, having a dependable personal assistant may compel us to do even more great work. 

The only fear of AI is complete human dependence. We need elements of crazy to keep creating. We’ll die off as soon as we stop winging it.

The most fascinating designer on the planet

“The genie is out of the bottle. I’m never going to be niche again. I’m commercial establishment. I would love to be weird and unattainable again. That’s what I wanted to be—to live in poverty but be like Giacometti.” Rick Owens
Photo by Sven Schumann

“The genie is out of the bottle. I’m never going to be niche again. I’m commercial establishment. I would love to be weird and unattainable again. That’s what I wanted to be—to live in poverty but be like Giacometti.” 

Paris-based fashion designer, Rick Owens, when asked about his success.

Be sure to check out the interview plus a profile on Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in the latest newsletter.

How design controls behavior

Design dictates behavior.

Put a feature front and center like Instagram or Facebook Stories and it’s nearly impossible not to click.

Keep a smartphone around while you’re doing work or eating and you’ll fight the urge to pick it up.

Listen to enough conspiracy theories and you’re bound to think that they’re true regardless of the evidence.

Design strips the will of its own control. But it also provides a two way street.

Design gave Macs an identity. Before Apple, computers looked like refrigerator units. SATs are designed to filter out lazy students. International airport queues divide national and international passports.

Design regulates everything from impulse, order, to culture. Knowing what’s marketing, what’s propaganda, and what’s pragmatically useful is a practice in design.

When you step back and reset the framework, all the design features are up to you.

What spreads, rarely sticks

The problems never stop. If they did, they would no longer be problems. They’d be solutions.

The good thing about solutions is that they’re typically social-proof and benefit from the network effect: What works for one person multiplies as commonality gets shared with the next.

The simplest form of information exchange is language. Words are memes. And memes can be rebranded and copy-pasted, completely overriding the origin. Even Dunkin’ Donuts made the word doughnut extinct.

Physical nature can also be maximized. The city, like an ant hill, is one big shared experience, a marketplace for swapping ideas. Residency, streets, bridges — all spawned from tiny cells into a collective pinnacle of innovation.

At the root of every solitary puzzle is a chance to do our best, to graduate from the individual to some type of collective high where the concept gets received and adopted.

The lone genius is a myth. Behind every wizard lies a team. No crowds, no celebrities.

Thinking, doing, and building all require form maintenance to ensure longevity. ‘Build it, and they will come is’ therefore a canard. A product’s existence depends on the strength of marketing and overall spreadability.

The Lindy effect says if a book is around a decade, it’ll last for another 50 years. Ideas and products are at the mercy of banter and eyeballs. Whatever gets shared sticks around.

When the crazy ones propose anything novel, they beg for neighborhood’s attention. It is the external reaction, the possibility of adoption that excites the misunderstood maker. That is, until the urge to recreate the system sparks blindness toward the facets worth keeping.

“We build our computer (systems) the way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.” — Ellen Ullman

For better or worse, mass adoption is what triggers the desire to invent something new.

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.

‘I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience’

Krista Tippet, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.

Krista TippetBecoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

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.

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.