October 27, 2009
Mount Everest. That huge mountain-- symbol of human will vs. nature: ice and cold and lack of oxygen and quick decisions and chance and no way out but up. From base camp to summit, Everest has given the climber the chance to unlock everything within himself in order to achieve something great on his own terms. As any climber will tell you, most of the combat goes on inside. Self versus fear. Self alone.
A friend’s daughter recently texted her from Everest. Things had gotten a bit lonely hunkered down in the old tent, so she thought she’d check in with Mom. With that call, the entire opportunity of Everest changed from real to pastiche, from true struggle to extreme entertainment.
In this time of ever-fresher apps and endless Facebook and constant texting, the greatest challenge to our growth as human beings and to our society is our growing inability to be alone. America is based on an assumption that, deeply, all of us want independence, want to call our own shots and make our own decisions for ourselves. We celebrate liberty, we admire the lone cowboy. But none of us is a lone cowboy anymore. Nor do we really desire to be one. The thought of riding the range without instant access to someone else is scary. What if we needed something? What if we found ourselves...out of touch?
In just the last few years the designers of technological features have been teaching us to fear solitude--inadvertantly . Current apps teach people to be dependent on the comforting call to Mom, on endless texting, on being able to send a stream of "I am here" noises out to a seemingly ever-listening Universe. Like a prisoner tapping on the wall of his solitary cell, we want to know someone is on the other side. We want to know someone will tap back. We must have them tap back. What would we do if they didn't?
We want to know exactly where we are, and we want someone to tell us what we can do there. A glance at my ipod tells me my location, what is around me, what I should do next and when the best time to pee occurs during the movie I am currently watching. I feel safe knowing that someone has done the thinking for me. Safe from what?
The very value of independent thought is lessened these days. I can see it in the faces of some students. Why bother deciding for ourselves if it has all been laid out for us already? Why look farther than Google? We assume that the choices we are shown are the only choices--that there's no agenda in the ways choices on Google are shown to us. We assume that new apps are created in our best interest-- helping us live the best lives we can live. We are beguiled into believing that what tech companies can provide for us is what we need to live. But that's not true.
New technological “advances” exist only to sell products. They do not exist to make life more valuable. These features and app.s are also fairly random-- none of the explosion we are living through is a coordinated effort. There is no council of techies thinking about what that technology will do to you or to your life in the long run. Oddly, in this day of umbilical security, we are just as much on our own as individuals as we have ever been. And if we are to live lives we look back upon without regret, we have to make independent choices about just how much of a baby bird we’re going to be, and just how much false security we’re going to let tech companies cram down our throats.
Independence is hard. It is scary. To think for oneself is to be in a certain amount of pain a certain amount of the time. Now there’s a marketing disaster for you! No one wants to hear about the pain of confronting reality. It’s so much cozier to call Mom from the basecamp. But what happens on the day that Mom doesn’t answer? What happens when the slow realization dawns that she'll never answer again?
Avoidance is easy until it isn’t. I say this as a woman who has avoided much in her life, hoping that somehow the way through would be clearer later. I understand how easy it is to avoid the responsibility that comes with independent thinking, to text yourself into a state where you do not care about anything much except the the back and forth that spends your days and time so comfortably. Lulling. Comforting. We all do it. But we need to look at what we're doing.
It is so much easier to let the web carry the burden of choice. To assume that everything we will need is just a Google away so there's really no need to learn the skills to think anything through. Oh, to be a charismatic cult leader right now! I could really clean up: rake in the big bucks. With such a level of inculcated credulity, I could start the Young Pioneers of Natalia. I could start the Natalia Youth. They'd have nicely designed uniforms.
By staying occupied and attached, we are teaching ourselves to be part of a herd, a docile herd that is a great boon to those who need the great mass of people to be quiet and to follow. This is working out just great for the people who would rather we didn't think too much for ourselves. Bread and Circus: Text and Facebook.
The avoidance of solitude we find in constant distraction gives us no practice in the simple mental toughness people need to get through life. We're like the man who always lines up the next girlfriend before the last has left him, like the woman who has sixteen pizzas in the freezer just to make sure she never has to experience not having one the moment she wants it. But the unpopular, unmarketed, unadvertised experience of separateness is the only way through to being a real person with real values and real beliefs. If we care about living lives that are truly ours, we've got to have the courage to break away from communication dependence and go up that mountain alone.
October 19, 2009
Like studying for a midterm or doing some gritty thinking for a large writing project? When I find myself stuck in the blither that is avoidance my quickest trick is to look at Merlin Mann's blog at "43 folders". Not only does reading a few entries allow me to avoid doing something I perceive as undoable, huge and awful for at least a few more minutes, but, since it's a blog about doing your best creative work and overcoming avoidance, I feel I can avoid productively by reading about avoidance.
I find that reading about why I procrastinate takes the steam out of procrastination. Just isn't worth it after reading a few of Merlin's entries. I've used tips on this blog to kickstart everything from ironing shirts to writing articles. Let me know how his thoughts work for you.
October 17, 2009
The Cooper Hewitt-- the Smithsonian's National Design Museum-- holds this award competition every year. I believe it is the only "people-juried" serious award going. Looking at the site and seeing what's been nominated provides insight into what our culture deems important or amusing right now. Next year what is important or amusing will have shifted.
Could this be an example of design acting as artifact of the time in which it was created? And just what is the influence of this group of objects-- objects beheld as valuable designs suitable for winning prestigious awards-- when it is seen by other designers? I just ask.
October 14, 2009
He's throwing his considerable media weight behind this house that floats.
October 8, 2009
When I'm on vacation I love luxury, but when I'm leading workshops I like to stay in a nice, plain, chain hotel rather than in a one-of-a-kind bed-and-breakfast. I like my downtime to be really downtime. I don't want to be called upon to be cordial to the generally chatty people who own bed-and-breakfasts. I'm a veritable Jericho when it comes to boundaries and need that big locking fire door between me and the world. So anyway everyone knows this and this time my hosts put me up in the new Providence Downtown Hampton Inn.
Until eight days ago, I must say that I was a loyal Courtyard Marriott gal. True, the Hampton Inns I had stayed in were feasible. But I felt they were a bit more down-market and there was a fluorescent lighting thing going on that wasn't working for me. I had stayed in a great Hampton Inn in Gaffney, South Carolina, but had thought it was probably because I was in South Carolina that everyone bent over backwards to be helpful.
Positive: brand statements are perceived as true.
I hadn't really thought about this hotel's total real advantage until I started counting up the included services that the courtyard gets me to pay for.
The free internet access: that's a savings of 12 dollars a day for 8 days;
The free breakfast: 8 dollars a day for 8 days;
The totally free business center, free internet and free printing-- the last time I printed out something at the Biltmore, rental and fees cost me 13 dollars. It's not that I'm fixated on money-- or maybe I am, but I'm also just not an idiot and would rather spend that money at J.Jill.
Did I mention the free shuttle bus constantly at my service, first for a small trip to the mall, then for a long trip to the airport? Trips for which I would have paid a cab? The coffee available 24/7 and the big cookies always out? The mechanical shoe-shiner conveniently located on my way out the door? OK. I'm just saying. Hampton Inn saved me a ton on add-ons and every employee I have ever met is well-trained and beyond courteous, dashing over to hold elevator doors, making sure I have an umbrella. The George V didn't treat me as well.
Negative: Brand statement does not include pledge to eco-responsibility or take human need for non-media public spaces into account.
The management only needs to rethink two things: the very, very high waste factor in the food service, and the media domination of all the public spaces in the hotel. Too much CNN. Not enough Green Advantage.
One-cup coffee makers that use styrofoam cups and plastic filter trays made to be used only once and then tossed in landfill are just about the worst environmental decision for making coffee today. YOu can put the recycle symbol on them, but when you don't have recycling in the room that's not exactly going to save them from the trash can. Probably saves breakage of glass carafes. But bad. Really bad. Totally wasteful. Gives a bad impression of the values of the people running the show.
The breakfast service: I haven't seen this much styrofoam and paper and plastic wrap and little plastic tub action since the last time I spent the night in a hospital barcalounger, bedside. All these plastic wrapped things may be clean-looking, but they are not appealing. This total lack of environmental emphasis at the "hot breakfast" tells me that the CEO must be about my age or older, because younger people just don't waste things like the previous generation and it makes them sick to see it. Business travelers in their thirties recycle at home. They want to see less waste when they're on the road. Given the less-waste option, they'll take it. Slapping a recycle mark on the side of a plastic tub does not cut the mustard anymore. I sense that someone in branding at Hampton is aware of the sustainability issue, thus the recycle marks, but bottom line, the breakfast is a plastic trash-making festival.
Most of the plastics used could be replaced with pressed recycled cardboard plates and cups or with the new pressed bamboo sustainable throw-aways that are so prevalent in the Seattle corporate environments where I consult. They leave so much less of a footprint. Particularly the bamboo, which is so minimally processed. And there's a comfortable, natural heft there which goes a long way in dispelling the existential aloneness of the business traveler, brought on by eating too many meals out of too many cartons with too many tiny white forks.
Problem #2: There's just too much big screen TV presence in the breakfast areas. Like its MotherBrand, the Hilton, there's nowhere in the huge room that I can sit without a VERY BIG TV screen in front of me. I down my raisin bran at 9:00 am in front of the 4-foot high talking head of Wolf Blitzer. Doesn't get the day off to a good start. The man is looking more and more like a soft plush toy.
As all those screens talked, I noticed no one in the breakfast room was paying any attention to Wolf Blitzer. The single guests were reading papers. At fuller tables, the guests were talking to each other. What a concept.
I'll bet that the person that signs off on the design of the interior spaces is male, because no woman would design an eating place to look and sound like a sports bar. Give me some peace and quiet before I charge out to speak to 70 people about their responsibilities as designers. Don't saddle me with Wolf. Is it a gender-based preference? Then make a space for the percentage of travelers of the gender that doesn't want to eat breakfast in a sports bar.
I urge the folks strategizing the Hampton brand, in the midst of all they are doing right, to press the green advantage and to support the business traveler's human need for peace and quiet in a communal setting. Replace one of the media screens with a crackling fireplace. Put in a couple of wing chairs.
If you do, the place will be perfect, and I might have to move in permanently.
October 4, 2009
So the website "hotfrog" has decided to include me as a listing. Name correct. Address, wrong-- very wrong. Phone number could not be wronger. And yet a quick scan of included keywords tells us they have the right person. Why spend time writing memoir when it's all there in the keywords? Hotfrog is a poet. And I quote:
(a poem, by hotfrog)
Graphic Design History
History Of Graphic Design
October 1, 2009
I forgot to mention here that Stefan Bucher's new book is out. He and the publisher had a big party for it in L.A. but I had the flu and couldn't budge. This was annoying for I imagine that they did things right.
The Graphic Eye: Photographs by Graphic Designers From Around the Globe is the perfect present for your design friends this year. And add one in for yourself. Stefan's stringent editing and thought-through book design make this the object with which to collapse into a big leather chair after holiday preparations have taken their toll. The photos are so revivifying that soon you'll be humming "It's Cold Outside" and warming up the hot buttered rum.