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.
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).
It took this text a while to make it through the foggy streets of Berlin. It was hard to move forward. Just like January: I struggled getting out of bed, as—except for a few sunny days—the city was buried underneath a thick, stifling blanket of winter.
Even though I am not very active on the platform, the first people in my Snapchat stream started using Snap’s Spectacles—a pair of glasses with an integrated camera that records short clips and posts them to the user’s story. When Snap released the product last year, I was skeptical (as Google Glass failed and video-recording glasses just seem like a suspicious thing in general). However, when I saw the videos filmed with the device, I was surprised: The way you can take someone else’s point of view, as well as the user experience of the round video, was just fantastic.
During the last term at Uni, I thought more about wearables in general, and how they need to be designed to actually work for their users. Fashion plays a big role, obviously, and I liked this conversation about Apple’s trial and error to create fashionable gadgets. While I find the AirPods technically very interesting, I think their product design fails on a lot of levels (can you run with these things? Shake your head in disagreement? Wear a hat?!). Just like the whacky idea that thinner phones are better to hold, sometimes more (e.g. a cord) is more.
In general, I feel that the more advanced the technology around us becomes, the more useless it appears to me. My Facebook stream was completely destroyed by algorithms, and so I ditched it. A computer with a touchbar instead of keys, that completely dumps my muscle memory?! I also can’t think of any use for voice-controlled home assistants, other than them telling me facts about eggs (side note: I enjoyed Johna Paolino’s essay about the different style of making conversation with Alexa vs. Google Home).
A lot of products and algorithms are not only useless, but also fuel our fear of missing out so badly and shamelessly. Who wants that?! Just think of Instagram’s push notification when someone starts a live video: “XYZ started a live video. WATCH IT BEFORE IT ENDS!” How can one not become totally stressed out and anxious about the digitized world? In Manoush Zomorodi’s podcast Note To Self, Anil Dash explains the great concept of JOMO instead of FOMO.
Lets focus on that and joyfully miss out on some things in February. Valentine’s Day, for example. Ugh! I’ll stay inside for another month, and listen to the La La Land Soundtrack. I also loved listening to Beulah (a band I missed out for long enough), and Benji Hughes. Happy February.
This is it. I really can’t wrap my head around why new years eve is such a thing, but it always is: so much weight on one night that throws us into raw panic; you better make this evening the greatest of the year, it’s your last chance!
It’s not going to work anyway. So I decided to skip it. Also, I am not going to make this my end-of-year review, because I know that we will wake up tomorrow, and there will be just another day, another month, another year waiting for us. It’s only names that change.
Over Christmas, I met friends from school, and we shared our best moments of the past year. It was hard to think of something—not because my year was shit; there were ups and downs, and 12 months are long. I tried to explain this one recent evening, where we luckily got cheap tickets for the Vienna Burg theatre, and afterwards we stumbled out into the Austrian night, and it was so clear, and we decided to walk home, because you can just walk everywhere in Vienna, and on our way, we ate a cheese-filled sausage (don’t ask), and it was all very easy.
Easy was what I needed. We spent so much time in coffee houses again, and that was easy too: “More Royals or more Celebrities?”, asks my friend and holds up a bunch of tabloid magazines. Hours passed, and we let them, we just read and said nothing. I find talking really hard sometimes, which is probably a bourgeois problem. I enjoy being silent.
This year ends with a lot of things it started with. Sholem published his first book with his Berlin Diary drawings. I keep re-reading Elisabeths weekly summaries, because they are soft and gentle everyday life observations. I still watch Roger Willemsen on YouTube, and I wish he could have said or written something to hold onto after 2016.
For the next year, I plan to discover more music. I’ve been listening to only two albums recently: Solange’s True (2012), and Pure Bathing Culture’s Pray For Rain (2015). I saved some tracks on Spotify, but I can’t remember titles or artists, which is sad.
Two days ago, a thin but cold layer of frost covered the city I am currently in. Winter came back. Twelve months ago, I couldn’t wait for it to leave, I almost couldn’t bear Berlin anymore. But Summer saved me, yet again. And I am impatient for it to arrive. Four more months. And then another year. Another round. Let’s make it count.
It’s 9.30 am. I am carrying my transparent plastic bag filled with a laptop, some pens and a book through the library. This place is quite ugly from the outside, but inside, it somehow works. A light-filled atrium connects the sounds of the entry hall with the desk areas and bookshelves. The noise level in here is perfect—not too quiet; you still allow yourself to breathe, and not loud; enabling the perfect concentration mode. I put my coat, my bag and my phone (necessary!) into the locker, stuff a coffee and a doughnut in my face, and find myself a desk.
It’s basically a time machine back into 2013, when I spent most of January in this building to finish my bachelor thesis. The audience is a wild mix of art and engineering students, and they all appear to be very focussed and smart. I like to make myself comfortable on the fourth floor, between the sheet music and the multi-media library. From here, I can watch November’s rain, finish some books and finally try to focus on studying. I really do try, at least.
However, I also allow myself to drift off from time to time, from link to link, book to book. In October, I briefly mentioned Design Fiction. In class, we talked about this amazing project by the Extrapolation Factory, called 99¢ Futures. It was a pop-up store which, for one day, sold various items from the future, like a Mars Survival Kit, void refills, or an “instant full university degree while you sleep”. I might want that one. Even more design fiction can be found in Mark Dudliks essay “Speculations From Tomorrow”, where he explores the narrative of the Netflix series Black Mirror, for example, or Spike Jonze’s movie Her (remember Scarlet’s alluring Samantha voice?).
Less fictional, more scary: Adobe recently presented a tool dubbed “Photoshop for Audio”. From a 20-minute voice sample, it lets you manipulate existing and create totally new audio snippets—allowing people to put basically any word into any persons mouth. While it does sound like a disaster, regarding the current mistrust in media and algorithms, it really is what we have already gotten terribly used to with image manipulation.
Further digression: My friend Caitlin is an awesome person and writer. Need proof? Read her article about womanhood (is that a word?). Anyway, it’s relevant.
I am not very up to date when it comes to trending topics and memes, but some fragments of the #mannequinchallenge slipped through to my phone. This one won.
This last day of November is my 25th birthday. And of course, I found myself thinking: “25 is basically 30, and 30 is close to 40, and 40 means full grown-up-status, and what else is supposed to come after that?” What a stupid chain of thought. However, it reminded me of Miranda July’s movie “The Future”, where a couple wants to adopt a cat, and suddenly has very similar thoughts. They turn off the internet, start volunteering, loose each other, and everything falls apart.
I don’t think thats going to happen to me though. I’ll hide here in the library, with some doughnuts and coffee, and if I stare at this open Pages document for long enough, it might start filling itself. Fingers crossed. Enjoy December.
The train takes approximately 1.5 hours to get me to Potsdam. I will be studying there for the next one or two years. On my way, I pass through Grunewald, which is really one giant cloud of golden leaves right now, and lots of lakes. Berlin is very watery, and Potsdam is very tidy. However, the first two weeks of University left my mind in a very untidy state. So much input! Here are just two fragments of things I stumbled upon:
I read about the PIBA-DIBA proposal, for example: A guidance to blend the Digital with the Physical (paper here). It basically gives two lists to designers, based on: „Physical Is Better At“ vs. „Digital Is Better At“, with the intention to direct the designer’s focus to beneficial aspects of using digital vs. physical objects. Another interesting topic I stepped into was the design methodology of „Design Fiction“. In this essay, Julian Bleeker explains how science fiction is a powerful way of innovating and pushing ideas to a wider audience (you all remember the crazy interfaces in Minority Report, and how fragments of them slowly drip into our lives, and how their designer John Underkoffler actually made them reality).
My Dropbox is filled with PDFs, TED talks, and about 100 links to Google Scholar papers. What I find hard is to manage all this input. I have the feeling that I forgot how to learn. And I am not talking about this new kind of learning; interactive and revolutionized methods leading to epiphanies, adaptable to the “real world”. I am talking about learning in its purest, dullest format: sitting at a desk, my nose and eyes buried in books, folders and my laptop, with blue ink stains on my lips from chewing on my pen (gross). Obviously this is due to my broken attention span (on that note, I enjoyed Douglas Forsters thoughts on How to Rebuild an Attention Span), and my three-year-pause of being a student.
With the luxury of my planned studies, I got to think about my desk and learning setup a little more the past month. While I find it okay to read on my tablet on the train or sit in our University’s very nice and quiet library, I really cherish my own home office. Or maybe I’d like to call it “my study” from now on. It’s a place to really sit down and focus, surround myself with paper and technology, and get lost in this area for a little while. It just never feels unproductive.
With the setup of a proper working environment, I found myself curious and critical over the latest release of Apple’s new MacBook Pro and the Microsoft Surface Studio. Both being doubtlessly powerful machines, their hardware design is lacking character. I really have a thing for outdated technology, and every time I watch old TV series where someone self-importantly hacks into an iMac G3 “for homework”, I feel all fuzzy and nostalgic. The site Starring At The Computer provides a ridiculously large collection of computer appearances on TV and in movies.
Also in October:
A — Rixdorf, the historic town center of Neukölln, and I finally became reconciled. I used to hate Neukölln in the dark autumn and winter months, but the area around here got so much nicer. There is a real bakery, a book store, and I even visit the bar around the corner from time to time.
B — While I try to get used to academic writing (I took a crash course at University, and am reading much more academic papers), I also felt like not writing like a robot from time to time. A reminder in my phone pushes me for one diary entry per day. I don’t always do it, but I do it more often now, which is very soul-cleansing™.
C — Other than that: It just started raining, and I was so so so motivated to go out for some physical activity this evening. But ok. I might just stay at home, in my study, and watch the outside slowly turning into winter. Have a great start into November!
With the cobbled part of the street, I slow down a bit. I take notice of the old houses and small byroads, dipped in the blue hour of the evening, and I glance into a warmly lit restaurant window. It’s empty, there is only one person inside, close to the window. The man isn’t reading, he’s not looking outside, he’s not really looking anywhere at all. It was a very calm moment, and in the next one, I got shaken up by the cobble stones again. I cycled on, and asked myself: Was he lonely, maybe?
For its larger part, September was spent in Augsburg, my parent’s home town. I wanted to take a break from Berlin, get some work done, and use my newly gained freedom to read, learn to cook (haha, yeah, no) and fill my sketchbook. There are only a couple of friends left in the town where I grew up. But when I meet them, it’s doesn’t feel like we live 600 kilometers apart. My friend Viktoria asked me if I would still fill those black notebooks with snippets, poems and drawings, as I used to in school. I loved carrying the small Moleskine books with me, and really put effort into the “ideas”, as I used to call the filled pages.
Unfortunately, I had to disappoint Viktoria. Since I started studying design, my patience with notebooks got close to zero. My handwriting is poor, it feels like my drawing skills didn’t improve over the years, and I just don’t take the time to go through printed magazines and cut out the things I like or find funny anymore. Now that creativity is “work” for me, the simple art of Scrapbooking feels dilettante. And I don’t like that. Remixing, editing and sorting the things you stumble upon is an integral part of the creative mind. I can still remember a lot of pages from all the old black books I filled, just because it took time and effort, and was actually fun to do. It was more than just a notebook with sloppy handwriting and messy sketches for sketches.
However – I didn’t manage to draw a lot. I watched some video tutorials on water colors after I visited my grandfather, wo enjoys doing it, but I wasn’t very successful or determined. With my return to Berlin, I stumbled back into reality. Even though the city is so much bigger and wide-spread, it’s also so much stronger connected. Everything is wired up and constantly buzzing. Next week, I’ll have my introduction day at University, and I am excited! It’s probably just me who’s buzzing, to be honest.
Things that caught my attention:
Rebecca Solnit on being a writer: “Find your metaphors where no one is looking.” I should read some more classic literature.
On the other hand, I enjoy delving through Gregor Weichbrodt’s corpus of work. He explores conceptual digital literature, for example with his Dictionary of non-notable Artists, or BÆBEL, a mash-up of IKEA furniture-assembly instructions.
A thought: Instead of in the woods, we’re getting lost on the internet.
Take some time to go to the woods though; autumn is amazing these days. Go with a friend, or maybe take some time for yourself to do so. Solitude is not loneliness, and it can be quite relaxing. Enjoy October!
For the time after my last day at work (I quit my job mid-August), I had a list prepared. I wrote down stuff that needed to be done for a long time, such as fixing the shelf in the kitchen, getting a new passport, or cleaning the windows. It also featured fun things like museums I’ve always wanted to go to, people I haven’t seen in a while, movies I wanted to watch.
August is over now, and I’ve been out of the day job for about three weeks. No surprise: I haven’t crossed-off a single item on the aforementioned list. Instead, my days were spent with the following: Waiting for the letter of acceptance for the master’s program I applied for (which I got today, finally!). Taking pictures of people taking pictures (they usually pose in an equally majestic way as the statue they’re photographing). I walked through Prague, wondering if I would find all the old buildings more interesting if there were some new ones in between. And while watching Stranger Things, I really wished it was set in the 90s rather than the 80s, just for a stylistic change. I enjoyed the series, but the 80s-aesthetics-card has been played way too often already. I could handle some flared pants, lava lamps and leather coats by now. (Ok, maybe no flared pants.)
I visited Vienna, and fell in love with the city. We spent a lot of time in those typical coffeehouses; places you can hardly find in Germany anymore: Old wooden furniture, piano music; everything smells as if you could write great novels in here. Also, I don’t have a lot of friends who enjoy wasting time in coffeehouses as much as I do. We get used to positive habits about the people close to us; we take them as a luxury that we don’t want to miss in future relationships. That’s why finding the right friends is hard, sometimes.
Other notes noticed:
1) The current run on the mattress market by startups [sic!] is insane. Every month, there is a new company trying to revolutionize the way we buy mattresses (quick reminder that one should switch their mattress every 10 to 12 years). I appreciate it, because I appreciate sleep. In his Aeon essay “Falling For Sleep”, Rubin Naiman explores how our perception and appreciation of it changed.
2) Ever wondered why dumb people seem so confident? Ever felt really unsure, even though you’re usually a smart person? It’s called Dunning-Kruger effect, and describes the cognitive bias of illusory superiority.
4) I wonder: Is there a sign that things are not quite right? Symbols from movies (a flickering light in the dark street, a black cat running across it) evoke so. So vice versa, what are the signs that everything is quite alright at the moment? It feels so, anyway. August brought summer back, I went swimming in a lake for the first time this year, and I’m ready for autumn now. September, make me tick some more things that are not on the list.