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!
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.
I don’t want to write too many words on this, because I am about to ask you to read this blog post by Frank Chimero. Read it entirely, read it thoroughly. He composed a list of all the things he learned about productivity, and actually, about general happiness as a workaholic. It can pick you up. For example, he suggests:
Dump your brain on to a sheet of paper—every single thing you could hope to do in the next 3 to 4 months. Then, look at your task list. Have the author sign each one. Did you write it, or was it fear, that nasty tyrant in your head? Cross off anything written out of fear. Listen: some drudgery is unavoidable, but you’re living your one and only life. You get to drive; no bullies at the wheel.
… And after a while, Frank comes back to that sheet of paper:
(…) Many of the things you thought you needed to do in the next few months were left undone without noticeable consequences. Perhaps now you can now cut their weight. “Goodbye, heavy friends. Maybe someone else will give you the attention you need.”
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.
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!).
dass jemand mit dem Nudelholz so fest über die Holzarbeitsplatte meiner Küche rollte, dass eine tiefe Delle entstand – das Holz war nun wellenartig geformt und es war unmöglich, etwas darauf abzustellen. Ein Albtraum!
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.
Einer der besten Momente zwischen den Jahren war der, in dem mein Vater und ich die hohen Gräser im Garten winterfest gemacht haben. Mit einer Schnur haben wir die kindsgroßen Büsche festgezurrt, damit sie dem Wind stand halten können. Dabei habe ich die Pflanze umarmt und zusammengehalten, während mein Vater mit seiner speziellen Knot- und Wickeltechnik den Garn drumrum geschnürt hat. Nun stehen im Garten meiner Eltern witzige, puschelige Palmen, die den Winter hoffentlich überstehen.