Kevin Kelly: ‘I define art as cool and useless’

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Kevin Kelly was the former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture magazine Steve Jobs adored. He also founded Wired Magazine and continues to write books and give speeches worldwide about the future of technology.

Below are some of the most interesting highlights of a recent interview with an online publication The Caret.

Just as Brian Eno believes that “art is everything you don’t have to do,” so too does Kelly think art at its rudimentary level is useless.

I think there’s never been a better time to be a creator. It’s a wholly new era for the ease and power of creation. And I think of art as a subset of creation. I define art as cool and useless.

In the glut of today’s DIY artists with internet reach, it’s even harder to stand out. But there’s no reason to hide: some artists gain a posthumous reputation — Van Gogh for instance — and according to Kelly, all an artist needs is 1,000 true fans.

But this goes back to my true fans theory: you only need 1000 true fans to support your work. With the large market that we have, almost any weird thing that you do, if you really strive for excellence it’s entirely possible to find 1000 fans in the world of that. I see it again and again, where something is very esoteric and very niche — if you have a market of a couple billion people you’ll probably be able to find 1000 true fans.

While Kelly continues to predict the technology of tomorrow, he’s equally sanguine on today’s developments. He scoffs at the notion of a digital detox, as the internet is just too good.

Whether it’s work or a habit or technology, when you disengage, you recharge your batteries and come with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas. But I don’t like the term “detox” because I don’t think technology is toxic. I just think that you gain something when you don’t have it — a new perspective and new ways of looking at things and those are SO valuable. The challenge of the world today is that when everyone is connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, it becomes harder and harder to think differently. And thinking differently is the engine of creation, it’s the engine of wealth. So anything we can do to help us think differently is a huge advantage. And I think one of the most powerful things you can do is turn something off that’s usually on, no matter what it is.

Also be sure to check out Kelly’s interview with Tim Ferriss.

Underground bicycle parking systems in Japan

The robotic system, called the Eco Cycle, stores bikes 36 feet underground. It can store 204 bikes at a time.

To use it, you need to attach a chip to the front wheel of your bike that links to your Eco Cycle parking account. When you pull up to the Eco Cycle, it will recognize you’re a paying customer. Simply press the button and your will be taken underground.

Bikes are so ubiquitous in Japan that construction company Giken had to build an underground system to store them.

Read more

 

The oppression of speed

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gif via @Waywardteacup

According to German critical theorist Hartmut Rosa, accelerated technological developments have driven the acceleration in the pace of change in social institutions.

Noticeable acceleration began more than two centuries ago, during the Industrial Revolution. But this acceleration has itself accelerated. Guided by neither logical objectives nor agreed-upon rationale, propelled by its own momentum, and encountering little resistance, acceleration seems to have begotten more acceleration, for the sake of acceleration.

To Rosa, this acceleration eerily mimics the criteria of a totalitarian power: 1) it exerts pressure on the wills and actions of subjects; 2) it is inescapable; 3) it is all-pervasive; and 4) it is hard or almost impossible to criticize and fight.

Read To be more creative, embrace the art of doing nothing

The fate of click-bait

At the heart of the web’s self-destruction is contagious media: crazy cat pics and the entire Buzzfeedification of the internet.

Every site, even reputable ones, raced to the bottom because celebrity sideboob and stupid human and pet tricks drove clicks.

Writes Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants:

“Contagious media is the kind of media you immediately want to share with all your friends. This requires that you take pleasure in consuming the media but also pleasure in the social process of passing it on.”

“Contagious media is a form of pop conceptual art” in which “the idea is the machine that makes the art (LeWitt, 1967) and the idea is interesting to ordinary people.”

The clickbait craziness spawned an albatross of more ridiculous news, some of it fake news. As Zeynep Tufekci says in her TED Talk, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.”

And now we’re living with the repercussions of confused algorithms and companies like Facebook and Twitter avoiding responsibility.

A cartoon by @lisarothstein. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

 

We are psychologically vulnerable to social media games. If we want stupid, we’ll get stupid. And anything that requires some thought and effort will fade away.

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.

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

A unit of imitation

Photo by Wells Baum

It was a mass of niches. In many ways, it still is a collection of echo chambers.

But the web feels smaller today than it used to. The big fish seem to drown out the rest of the noise. Tv is the web, the web is tv, constructed for the masses.

Meanwhile, the same-looking images reappear on Instagram: food porn, selfies, and sunsets, leaving scant room for variation. Perspective is hard to find.

Those with a unique point of view get lost in the shuffle, discarded idiosyncrasies of the Internet-factory era. The only difference now is that people can market to the micro. You only need 1,000 true fans to build a business out of the long-tail!

Nevertheless, the web appears to be a less human and little more robotic. It is predictable and stale, sameness portends scale!

What is the dark web if we can’t even see through the light?

Flashes of intuition

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Photo by Michael Henry

When we drop a coin in the dark, our first instinct is to look for the nearest light (street lamp of phone flashlight) to find it.

We are victims of ignoring the obvious, yet we remain curious about what hides in the night. The problem is that we quickly search for artificial illumination to solve it.

But the initial frustration provides enough luminosity. The coin is often just below our feet; often times, we’re standing on it. It is not lost.

All we had to do was use our senses to look around first.

 

 

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 [easyazon_link identifier=”0226534219″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]How to Lie With Map[/easyazon_link], “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.

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.”

It’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.

Therapy friends

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You can practice speaking in front of them. You can count them on to keep you in shape. You can always rely on their love and affection.

You may dislike some things about your dog but there are too many benefits that outweigh the costs of their barking and neediness.

My dog Tatlim (Turkish for sweetie) is the bravest Silky Terrier in the world. She is one cool cat…eh, dog, and a best friend.

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Newsletter: How to stretch out your weekends, why both focus and unfocus are vital, new tunes from Buddy and more

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Man Sitting on a Boat Albertus H. Baldwin (1865–1935) : The MET

Arts and Culture

David Sedaris On The Life-Altering And Mundane Pages Of His Old Diaries

In this interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, American humorist and comedian David Sedaris reflects on the rough diary entries that became his new book Theft by Finding and why he always wanted to be a successful writer.

A lot of people don’t know what they want, or they’re just kind of vague about it. I was never vague. I knew exactly what I wanted. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it, but it’s scary … because what if that doesn’t happen?

npr.org

Why Are Doughnut Boxes Pink?

Yesterday was #NationalDonutDay. Here’s the history on donuts in one GIF. But you know those brassy looking pink donut bags at high-end bakeries? It’s a marketing gimmick; a trigger for emotions. It’s no surprise that they’re a product of LA.

“How the pink box has persevered so long may be about more than just dollars and cents. Experts say the color triggers an emotional connection to sweetness that makes doughnuts more irresistible than they already are…Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.”

latimes.com

Philosophy and Productivity

Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

We try too hard to find the perfect formula behind productivity. What if the brain prefers to multitask, toggling between focus and unfocus?

In keeping with recent research, both focus and unfocus are vital. The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.

hbr.org

The Secret to Making Your Weekends Feel Longer

If you want to stretch time, experience something new on the weekends. Break up the time with simple excursions. For instance, go play your Nintendo Switch in the park rather than from the couch. Read and write somewhere else other than your study desk or favorite cafe.

“According to David Eagleman, professor at Stanford University and the author of The Brain: The Story of You, pursuing new settings, new activities, and new experiences is the best way to “stretch time,” so to speak. It all comes down to what your brain perceives as novel. When you spend time doing something unfamiliar, your brain focuses more on collecting the data associated with the activity, thus creating a more thorough memory of the experience. When you reflect on that memory, it feels like you had more time.”

lifehacker.com

Social Media & Technology

Fuck Facebook

The love-hate relationship with Facebook continues, at least for hardcore bloggers Dave Winer and John Gruber, who explain why Facebook is “all-out attack on the open web.”

Treat Facebook as the private walled garden that it is. If you want something to be publicly accessible, post it to a real blog on any platform that embraces the real web, the open one.

daringfireball.net

More addictive: Fidget spinners or smartphones?

While we’re at it, fuck fidget spinners too. I put together a roundup of some of the best illustrations reflecting the obsession with both widgets.

wellsbaum.blog 

Digging in the Crates

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Compton-based rapper Buddy is back with some beats and rhymes on the 5-track EP entitled Ocean & Montana, a collaboration with Canadian producer Kaytranada.

Listen

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Shugo Tokumaru is a Japanese singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. He’s basically a one-man show.

Listen

Quote of the week

“Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

Katsushika Hokusai


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.

Nick Turpin on the evolution of street photography

Images by Wells Baum

“You have to be physically and mentally present to recognize these things and be ready for them, to recognize that something special is happening on the street in front of you. That really is the skill. It’s almost more important than getting the photograph. It’s recognizing the significance of something.”

— Nick Turpin, How Our Changing Cities Are Transforming Street Photography

Our third eye, be it smartphone or standalone point and shoot camera, is only as good as the two we were born with.

Are we still alive?

Are we still alive? #dogs #water #ocean #science #pets #brains #philosophy

Somewhere upon the way of evolution, humans lucked out. We developed language. We had hands that allowed us to manipulate our environment.

A bigger brain doesn’t make you smarter or more conscious. Neanderthals had larger brains than humans, so too do dolphins and whales. But the former died off, and the latter remain confined to water.

Meanwhile, humans built intricate tools. Says American neuroscientist Christof Koch, “human civilization is all about tools, whether it’s a little stone, an arrow, a bomb, or a computer.”

Given the advancements in technology and artificial intelligence, we may be too smart for our own good. By developing tools to think and for us, we’re outsourcing our neurons and developing a kind of robotic consciousness.

Humans are turning into broken machines.

Our jobs make us feel important and shape our identity. What are people going to do when they no longer have to work and have bundles of free time? Most of us will procrastinate and lounge while others will want to play like children with crayons again.