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122018: Think Lightly of Yourself, And Deeply of the World

Image of the night out of the train

Like every morning, my eyes open at 5:55am. Partly because of my inner clock, but also because my thoughts tumble around and wake me up. I start laying out tasks for the day, and conversations I need to conduct; I push words around like letters on a scrabble board, and while I end up with perfect formulations at 5:55, I usually miss out on using them during the day. I stay in bed until 7:30, sometimes 9:00am. Then I get up.

On the last day of this year (you are probably reading this in 2019 already, so take this as a greeting from the past and send it to the archives), I got up at 8:00am sharp. I went to a supermarket and bought three zucchinis. Then I re-read the newsletter I sent out one year ago. It was titled “You Think You Might Not Get Through It But You Do”. That’s probably what I learned throughout this year: You actually do. I finished a lot of things this year; I got a master’s degree, I worked with a lot of great people, and I worked on a lot of things including myself. I end this year being torn between totally agreeing to Jerry Salz’s statement “Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away” (I blogged about his great piece on being an artist), and accepting that not working might sometimes actually be the best cure for my nervous self. I might find out in 2019. Don’t cry—work. If you feel like it.

What follows are the occasional recommendations from around the web. E.g. Austin Kleon’s weblog, in particular this exploration of the metaphor “surfing the web“.

I enjoyed this piece by the California Sunday Magazine about Homes. They photographed and talked to a variety of people where and how they feel at home, and the audio layer of the piece makes it extra-intimate.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to move my blog’s home from Tumblr to a self-hosted system again. I made tons of posts (dating back to 2006!) private, and kept only the writing I still like public. When Tumblr decided to apply content filters as of Dec. 17, I already left the platform. Malte’s tweet summed up my feelings perfectly: “take this recent tumblr crackdown as a reminder that this is still the web. you can learn to build and own your own platforms.” (12/4/2018)

Drawing the 2018-Finishing-Line: Fear has been, yet again, way to dominant in my year, and I want to continue working on taming it. Besides that, I want to become better at using those formulations I make at 5:55am, I want to become better at taking up space, and more intent at making decisions. I hope you all had a great year and have some (not too many!) plans for 2019. Stay safe and sound, Yours truly—Christoph.

31. Dezember 2018

102018: We Are Our Own Devils

Goethes garden behind his house

I am strolling through Goethe’s garden (as depicted) as I’m in Weimar, a small German city known for, well, Goethe’s œuvre and the Bauhaus university. It’s mid-September; summer is still in full blossom and makes us all feel like we could get used to this; this does not need to stop, ever. But it will, we all know it, the seasons won’t fool us. But we like the idea of being fooled, even for a couple more weeks.

One and a half months later—October’s in its final hours as I type this—I peel myself out of bed and turn on the radiator; I have my gloves and thermal underwear in place and switched from iced coffees to hot tea. But outside, I still cycle through golden, leave-paved streets on Urbanstraße, which is delightful and makes the thought of the upcoming months more bearable.

I am happy to welcome you to another episode of this little gathering. Quite a few things happened during this summer; however, I wasn’t part of most of them. I was busy writing my Master’s thesis. While passing a couple of miserable moments (”Fuck this; nobody cares about my degree, let’s simply not finish it”, as well as “With this thesis I will go down as the first design student who failed and disappointed his supervisors in an abysmal manner”), I finished the book, I had it printed, I presented it in front of a room of intimidated undergraduates, and I passed. I was actually happy with the result. Lesson learned: Accepting that your own work is enough as it is, and trusting the people who tell you along the way that you are doing fine, could prevent a lot. Of. Stress.

During the thesis research as well as the writing as well as the miserable phases, I had two mantras pinned to my wall, hoping to find peace with both of them. One said “You are not special, work harder!”, the other one said “You are valid”. To cut a long, philosophical exploration short: I still haven’t found peace with neither of them. I don’t think I am special, but working harder isn’t always an option (sometimes, yes, but I carry a slight disbelief in the hard-work-can-get-you-anywhere-philosophy). Being valid, however, is a though one: Am I? Is that all enough? Is a book and it’s presentation in front of intimidated undergraduates and a good grade and a finished degree enough? I know that I myself am the person who can decide what’s enough, but how on earth am I supposed to know?!

[A lot of italics, this time. I am sorry. Maybe I should make this newsletter a podcast. (No.)]

The thesis was the main reason I didn’t get to jump into Berlin’s lakes during this summer’s heatwave. Very possibly, after nine years in Berlin, it was the first time I envied my friends and actually wished to refresh my media-theory-twined brain with a jump into cold water. But it’s okay. Maybe next year, or maybe never; maybe I really am not the person for lakes (that’s at least what I learned about myself every time someone convinced me to join them for a trip to Berlin’s outskirts).

I am trying to re-structure this monthly (or rather quarterly?) piece of writing little bit. You’ve already made it through the biggest part; the self-absorbed ramblings and updates on life and existence. What follows is a shorter part, where technology, design, culture and feelings are taking turns.

To keep it brief this time, I’d like to hand out two recommendations to add to your digital digest:

1) Spencer Tweedy restructured his newsletter as well and now sends out very brief and snackable observations. Subscribe here or delve through his online collection of words.

2) Perfect for quick lunch or dinner breaks home alone: The New Yorker’s Cartoon Lounge YouTube series. Everything is fun and witty and entertaining about it: The animated intro, the cartoons themselves, but especially the charming hosts Emma Allen and Colin Stokes. Watch the playlist here.

I hope you all had a great summer, got one or two chances to jump into a lake (or any other refreshing surrounding), and are in peace with how much you need to be to be content with yourself. If you have any tips or other, more rewarding mantras, please let me know.

31. Oktober 2018

042018: I’ve Never Liked Anything In My Entire Life

Shadows and light at König Gallery Berlin

I am at a conference about the internet and mental health. It’s a one-day event and I only bought a ticket because I wanted to hear Katrin Passig and Felix Stalder share their ideas on how the digital transformation influences our brain, our behavior, and how our society handles the “New”.

As the speakers discuss the meaning of digital endorsements and interaction (such as “likes”, “favs”, comments, etc), an older man in the row in front of me leans in to his neighbor: “I’ve never liked anything in my entire life”.

That sentence stuck with me more than any of the talks or discussions. As an active participant in social media, of course I cannot imagine that someone never “liked” anything. What’s not to like! But out of context, the sentence is deeply saddening. Imagine this elderly person, sitting in a darkened conference room on a sunny day, leaning in to his seat mate, with a cold coffee in his hands, confessing: “I’ve never liked anything in my entire life”. I’m glad that the internet preserved me from this nightmare.

I have liked and still do like quite a bunch of things in my life. Recently, these albums and playlists, for example:

1) Baio – The Names (Spotify link). Chris Baio, known as the bassist from Vampire Weekend, makes cheerful indie pop music, and I especially like his album covers and this remix album (Spotify link).

2) Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar (Spotify link). I know, I’m late to the party, but after their track Shame has been my workout soundtrack for MONTHS, I was looking forward to a new album—and it’s great!

3) My friend Martin publishes really well-curated playlists on Spotify. Check them out! My current favorites: “Charlottenburg Nord“ and “Hits zum Vergessen”.

It’s intense how Berlin transforms from Europes ugliest/greyest/saddest/dirtiest city into the most wonderful place on earth during spring: I cycle through the streets and have exactly the same thought as every year around that time: There possibly is no better city for me to exist in than here. I hope you enjoy spring as much as I do! Have a good one, and talk to you soon.

4. Mai 2018

032018: Design Won’t Save the World

image

As we’re jumping into the moving van, Felix asks me to hold a bag of medical supplies he brought from the hospital. Tubes, syringes, needles, disinfectant spray, all packaged separately in thin plastic bags. What’s that for, I ask. Felix’ friend—a doctor, too—was going to start his first job next week, and Felix promised to help him practice injections and blood sampling.

The way he handed me the bag with supplies was very casual, but I felt weird and—all of a sudden—very useless. When I help my friends and colleagues with work stuff, it’s usually about color choices, or whether the copywriting of an input field is clear enough. It doesn’t have any relevance at all. Whereas Felix, he f-ing helps friends take blood cells out of a body to put them into a laboratory to check them for diseases, and to actually cure them.

The whole tale that “Design can change the world!” has already been demystified a while ago. Another poster won’t save the world, nor will another app, or another chair, or typeface. Design does have the ability to make things better, but looking at our world full of over-designed products and services, it hardly ever is executed in a way that it does so. Design is often used to make bad things look better, and through that, it multiplies its negative impact. To be honest, that sometimes make we want to quit design altogether.

On the other hand, I am very lucky to work with people who are striving to use design for the better. Maybe that’s also because I waved goodbye to the startup world quite some time ago, and I try to work only with people and companies who I find relevant and/or pleasant as human beings (not only as colleagues). No bad vibes are worth the money, especially when you decided to make your passion your job.

Other stuff:

1 — Words: I’ve read a couple of good essays recently. In The Good Room, Frank Chimero explores the missing soul of our digital environment. A while ago, James Bridle wrote about the disturbing loopholes YouTube’s algorithm creates. And I love Jean Hannah Edelsteins newsletter “Thread”. Pre-order her book if you enjoy her writing, too.

2 — Pictures: I created a meme-inspired “starterpack” about my personality. Check it out here and make your own—I’d be curious!

3 — Life Hack: I unfollowed everyone who calls theirself “influencer” on social media and posts tons of ads. It just makes the web a shitty place. Please stop it.

4 — Lesson learned: Negative people are not worth your energy. It’s okay to stay away from them.

So, I helped Felix move last month. I also helped two friends paint their walls, and I re-arranged my furniture (it looks shit, so I’ll have to move it back again tomorrow). I will continue to design stuff, even if it’s worthless compared to the benefit a doctor brings into the world. I simply can’t do anything else; so I might just use it well. Have a great start into spring (Yes! We made it through the winter! Isn’t that something!).

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12. März 2018

122017: You Think You Might Not Get Through It But You Do

image

On the other side of the train wagon, a man is sitting alone in a four-seat arrangement, his computer on his lap. He smiles while he types furiously; he seems completely sunken into his task. I imagine him writing a draft for his novel, or a sweet message to a loved one, but maybe also he is just calculating his tax payments, and had a successful year?

While the train rattles through Berlin Grunewald, I see the day turn into night: The blue hour passed by and let the darkness come through. I don’t like darkness, but sitting in a cozy train after a long day, being carried through it safely, feels okay.

Looking back on 2017, my year hasn’t been that great. Lots of uncertainties and bad feelings. The most dominant one was probably fear—fear of all kinds of things. I managed to get rid of some of those fears (I am not scared of terrorism that much anymore, or of the movies “Panic Room” and “Seven”, as I watched them and they were not as horrible as I imagined when I was a child). But new fears developed, without control, and it takes time and hard work to get through them. I’m still on it.

However: As you are probably reading this in 2018 already, I don’t want to write about the past. There are a lot of learnings from 2017 that will carry me through the upcoming year. The most important one is this: Emotions are not rational. Explaining a fear or a feeling doesn’t always work, and it’s still okay to feel it. The only way to cope with it is to be okay with it.

Also: It’s so soothing to make things that make you happy. I struggled a lot with a seminar paper I had to write for university, but I really wanted to succeed. So I made a project out of it; I wanted it to feel like a creative project rather than a task I was forced to do. So I made a website for the paper; made something out of it that’s sharable and that fits my style—as a designer, but also as a person. It reflects me and the stuff I am thinking about, that it feels good to have that represented by some sort of artifact. If you want to know what that is: Read the paper I wrote about Invisible Computers here.

Some other things that might sound really lame but made me surprisingly happy: Living in a tidy apartment. Taking care of houseplants, watching them grow. Looking outside the window, listening to the neighbors singing. Give some money to people who ask kindly on the train. Invite people for coffee instead of going out somewhere.

For the upcoming year, I want to spend less time with people I am not really interested in. I want to say No to things I don’t like. I want more moments that allow me to smile about something I write, draw, make, say, see—the guy on the train, with his laptop, during that blue hour, was a good inspiration.

Have a great start into the new year. As last year: Make it count—but this time: don’t stress. We all should stress much less.

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31. Dezember 2017

032017: Stay Golden

image

As the sun is making an appearance after a couple of weeks of rain and cold weather here in Berlin, I am sitting on the back seat of the M41 bus line (the only bus line that has its own song). Next to me, a woman—probably in her early sixties—explains to her friend: “For a long time, I was only able to take selfies with this phone, because I didn’t know how to switch the camera around! Yesterday, my daughter explained it to me. Look!” She clumsily points at the camera interface to take a photo of the sun breaking through the dirty windows. It’s autumn, friends! Welcome back to this newsletter.

So many things happened within the last months, and at the same time, nothing exciting happened at all. Life just passed by; I passed through it. The woman’s situation on the bus reminded me of all the bad technology that we’re surrounded with. Like the visit to my parent’s house earlier this month, where my dad has a technology setup I just don’t understand anymore (and therefore hardly can help with tech problems). He switched to an Apple ecosystem a while ago, but the Windows DOS mindset is buried very deeply within his brain and pedantry. Everything could be so easy, but people don’t want things to be easy. (Except that one time, when Microsoft announced a couple of months ago that their infamous MS Paint software would be discontinued—no worries though, it will be around somehow). Sometimes, it’s the dumb and simple things that have a strong cultural and emotional impact.

Speaking of dumb: I watched “The Circle” the other night. To clarify: I haven’t read the book, so I can’t compare the differences there, but even though the movie was fine as a simple piece of entertainment, it had so many flaws within the storyline and the topic in general! I just didn’t believe a word Emma Watson said as her character Mae, and I got tired by the very thin dialogues. Half of the story and all possible twists were left open-ended. There was simply nothing either desirable or dystopian—it was just silly most of the time. The semi-futuristic interfaces looked like they were designed in 2002 (check out this great film on how to depict the internet and messaging in film!). Even to logo of “The Circle” was horribly executed! The one Jessica Hische drew for the book in 2013 was much nicer. To sum it up: I was very glad that in my reality, we already overcame platforms like Facebook and 24/7 oversharing of boring nonsense. The movie’s topic almost became obsolete for me.

Most of the time, at least. I’ve been consuming Instagram excessively during the last months, and experimented with their Story feature a couple of times. What bothers me there: People don’t take the time to actually tell stories. They just use it as a dumpster for candids. If you have recommendations for great Instagram story tellers, ping me! My current favorites are Jürgen Siebert’s “Fontstories”, Kübra’s diary posts and Sophie Passmann’s jabbering.

Some more personal and project-related news: At ZEIT ONLINE, we launched a new digital magazine called “Arbeit”. It’s a platform about our relationship to work and work-life-balance, about changes and chances, and failures, too. I designed the thing (and am still totally in love with Milieu Grotesque’s Patron font family).

I was also working on a book which will go to print later this month—my first assignment as a copywriter, which was exciting and fun. Also, I am still working on a seminar paper, which I’ll publish in a couple of weeks, too. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to never ever miss out again about my exciting life (spent on my couch for 80 percent of the day).

Ok. So far. Have a great start into autumn, and let’s hope that the sun makes a couple of more appearances before it finally gets grey and cold outside for good. Also: remember to switch your phone’s front camera to the back from time to time, to capture some of the rays and golden leaves. Happy October!

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2. Oktober 2017

022017: One With The Freaks

Dear friends, it’s been a while. Please apologize my absence – I’m not quite sure what happened. Maybe it was a mixture of rainy day mood swings, busy University days and long, demotivating train rides between Potsdam (where my University is) and Neukölln (where my home is) that kept me from jotting down this humble monthly sheet of words. But I am back. Here are the news.

1 — I watched the 2017 version of Ghost In The Shell a couple of weeks ago. Knowing that I am late to the game by now, I still want to share some thoughts. The first time I stumbled upon the anime was in 1999, when one-hit wonder Wamdue Project used the famous “Making of a Cyborg” scenes in their music video for “King Of My Castle” (YouTube link). While I didn’t fully understand the philosophical depth behind the original story, I always noted the cultural significance Mamoru Oshii’s anime kept until today.

The story takes place in 2029, which is only 12 years away from today. I found it particularly interesting to compare the futurescapes which the 1995 and the 2017 movie versions paint. While the anime version creates a dystopian urban jungle with a very grey, olive, dusty color palette, Scarlet Johansson runs through a neon-blue and light-polluted LED-city besieged by advertising holograms. I recommend scrolling through the set of moodboards and thoughts by designer Monika Bielskyte, who was involved in creating the movie’s visual direction in the beginning. The moodboards stick to the overall cyberpunk topic, but some of them are much less dystopian and cold than the end result.

2 — So much for the sci-fi nerd talk. Admittedly, I am not even that much into all this stuff, but with Ghost In The Shell, it was different; and comparing the past to the present (with a little bit of future) is always interesting. In this semester, I am participating in a research project about the early stages of the home computer. We are time-traveling through the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s, when the internet was very far away from being at our fingertips, and companies were trying hard to make up reasons why a regular household would need a personal computer.

I cannot even remember a point in time where our home computer did not have an internet connection. Sure, it was not part of our everyday life, and as a kid, I mainly used the computer for games and creating crappy PowerPoint animations. I would say that being born in the early 90s, my generation is not only digital native, but also internet native. It’s nice to dig through research, advertisements and general perceptions of life where this crucial tool called Internet just wasn’t even existent.

3 — Speaking of computer nostalgia: This Guardian article reminds us about “the forgotten world of 90s movie websites”.

The Washington Post compares the apartments of New York’s famous TV shows (like GIRLS and Friends) to reality. This would be very interesting for Berlin, too.

People with odd attitudes are usually quite inspiring. Like Karl Lagerfeld, who explains his daily routines in the Harper’s BAZAAR series.

I played around with Anchor.fm briefly. The concept is simple: Like an audio version of Snapchat, users can create radio stations that disappear after 24 hours. It’s a very well-made and fun app, and from time to time, I mumble German mumblings into my phone’s mic. If you want, you can download the app and follow my station.

4 — Upcoming: Later this month, I’ll be writing for Berlin’s TYPO conference. We catch the conference behind the scenes and front row, and there are lots of great speakers, as every year. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a great month, and I’ll talk to you soon (on Anchor, or through in your mailbox. Sign up for the newsletter here).

6. Mai 2017