[FKPXLS] VOL.37 — What if we forget about time
We're in this window of history where time has been forgotten. The only thing we're all certain of is that this window might only open once, or maybe twice, in our lifetime.
|Tina He||Apr 10|| 4|
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
— Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye
Sara Cwynar, Time Is Up 2 (Darkroom Manuals), 2018
”…In order to see how a picture has changed, how it has gone from being something important to something nobody wants, or the opposite, it has to be marked by time.”
During the past weeks I have spent some meaningful amount of time trying first to keep track of, and, when that failed, to reconstruct, the exact sequence of events that preceded and followed the day I left New York.
I found very little success in doing so. The diligent data collection and fact synthesis only yield one version of the reality, which we are all familiar with — the number of deaths, the issuance of new policies, the press, etc. This version of reality feels quite different from our individual reality and even the reality at a smaller scale with a selected group of people. Time gets distorted in every conversation that it's almost becoming meaningless. My attachment to time seems to have evaporated, alongside with my attachment to my morning Birch Coffee run, my boutique fitness classes, and weekend Acai bowls.
I wasn't aware of how modular and portable my life has become in recent years. It's as if I've been migrating not only my files but my entire being into the Cloud. I didn't bring much with me when I left New York. I brought my favorite black turtleneck, my devices — a Mac (right brain), a PC (left brain), an iPad (galaxy brain) — and my Quip toothbrush. I figured I could easily replicate the life I live in a daily sense somewhere else. That's a moment when I've realized how digitally native I've become, and how my state in the physical world is simply one data point that contributes to my transient node of existence in a much larger network.
When Nabokov was studying in Cambridge, away from home for college. He was so homesick that even nature felt dull:
“Nature may be beautiful overseas, but it is not ours, and we find it soulless and artificial. One needs to gaze at it persistently to begin to feel it and love it, whereas at first something of the greenhouse wafts from the unfamiliar trees, and all the birds seem as if on springs, and the sunset looks no better than a rather dry watercolor.”
That's how many of us feel at the moment. The digital world is cool and all, but simply not the same, not as good, not as lively. But soon, after spending enough time taking long walks by the river and drinking his youth away in pubs, Nabokov realized:
“One can get used to anything, adapt, and learn to notice beauty in what’s strange. Wandering on a smoky spring evening around the town, becalmed, you sense that there exists, beyond the speckle and bustle of our life, an altogether different life in Cambridge, the life of beguiling bygones”
Around the world, we are now all on an equal footing in terms of our involvement with the physical space — we're all at hone — and the variance between our experiences results almost entirely from the different allocation of our cognitive resources. There are laws and etiquette to put us in our place in the physical world, like the nutrition labels associated with food and instructions in the park, but little has been defined for how to act and react responsibly and intelligently in this new reality.
But that's okay. We're still in shock, still healing, still trying to make sense. We're in this window of history where time has been forgotten. The only thing we're all certain of is that this window might only open once, or maybe twice, in our lifetime.
There's no better time to forget about time, But simply to observe, to reflect, and to re-prioritize what we're here for. I was moved by Gaia Vince’s description for the human network as a superorganism:
No one individual decided bushmeat was valuable; no one individual devised this globally networked human system; no one individual created this infection. This situation arose from a human cultural system that is so successful that a social need in one community can be met quickly and efficiently by extracting natural products from a distant forest. The cumulative and synergic side effects of this extraordinary success turn out to be globally devastated ecosystems, and a pandemic virus that has decimated human communities and produced a global economic meltdown with the potential to hit even more human lives in the months to come. It can seem hopeless.
But, just as one infectious agent can spread throughout the network from a single point, so too can one solution. Our superorganism is made of so many differently connected networks that can each be tweaked.
It takes courage to confront the beauty and the foul of what we've created, and it takes even more courage to move forward. At least we’re given some time to think in the eye of the storm.
Stay real, and safe, and say “i love you”,
Constructing Nostalgia and Intimacy
Facebook recently launched Tuned, which lets couples message each other, swap music, share their mood, keep a daily shared diary, and send photos and voice memos. Not surprisingly, it’s gotten many bad reviews speculating this it’s just a creative way for Facebook to acquire more data, which is a bit funny since Tuned is clearly Facebook’s (over)compensation and redemption for their Big Brother critique.
Just like a moving human, a company’s lack of self-awareness can come off as desperate, trying too hard, confused, or even unlawful. But in moments of crisis, people are becoming much gentler and more forgiving. The collective nostalgia of the Internet giants has become a quiet carnival — we lose ourselves in faint memories of long, steamy summers spent on Deviant Art and Facebook groups, escaping from the heat, the heartbreaks, and the parents.
People are joining video calls with people they’ve never met for everything from happy hours to book clubs to late-night flirting. They’re sharing in collective moments of creativity on Google Sheets, looking for new pandemic pen pals, and sending softer, less pointed emails.
The internet used to be a place where you could learn about anything—that is, until the information overload became overwhelming. Now cabin fever and boredom have led people back to the internet to learn again, crowdsourcing the best sourdough recipe, mastering new languages, or picking up any number of other useless or handy skills.
What we’re seeing is a long lost sense of community and resilience. What we’re seeing that we don’t have to be physically present to mobilize people, and it’s not that the physical infrastructure that’s doing this. We bring online what we desire offline. What is changing isn’t just the technology, but our relationship with it — a more vulnerable, intimate relationship that demands us to open up and be a bit crazy.
Hong Kong’s most well-known democracy campaigners, Joshua Wong, said he was playing the game and that the movement had shifted online.
📷 Word: Consumerization of Enterprises
📸 Updated Word: Tools for Humans
There’s been a discourse around the consumerization of the enterprise, a term referring to the recent wave of SaaS businesses that share similar properties with a consumer company — from the look and feel of the product to their go-to-market strategy. SaaS companies with a prominent Product-led Growth strategy start to use consumer metrics like DAU/retention/session length to measure success.
I quite dislike the term because there’s nothing that sounds more enterprise than that. In the past, great designs didn’t immediately convert to tangible business outcomes, and therefore can’t be prioritized on a company’s roadmap. The arrival of Notion, Airtable, Figma to name a few, unapologetically shows how it can be done, blurring the line between our work life and our personal life that probably wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.
Snapchat is a company that creates tools for capturing images and communication. Figma is a company that creates tools for building software and communication. Both are built and designed with human flaws and motivations in mind. Both can create an economy that rewards good work. Both make what was hard-to-do easier. Both allow more humans to participate and lowers the bars to play.
Stripes recently launched Stripes Home, an internal tool for employees to better understand each other and the company.
Home was also designed to encourage Stripes to get to know each person beyond their team and the projects they’re working on. We’ve found that building connections across the company makes it easier for us to share, learn from fresh perspectives and build a sense of belonging early on. Everyone has their own personal page that describes how to get ahold of them for work, where they work, and any quick background they’d like to share.
Even the most externally glamorous companies suffer from a messy room, leaving the employees to feel info-bloated and overwhelmed by redundancy. I’m excited to see companies like Retool and Internal to create a base-line standard for crafting a human experience we all deserve.
This section probably deserves a separate post on how the design of the horizontal and vertical tooling and platforms create identity, belonging, and ultimately individual dignity.
Getting Things Done
The illusion of agency over our productivity is disorienting. It didn’t take long for me to sugar crash by filling every single gap of my calendar — only to feel brain dead by the end of the day.
Having been a disciple of Newport’s #DeepWork method, I resort to it once again with a different strategy. Before COVID, my primary strategy was to fit in 25-minute short, and oftentimes spontaneous, blocks throughout a meeting-filled day. To make time in the present, I need to deconstruct how time was made in the past.
I’ve been blocking out aggressively unconstrained focus time. The downside of this is occasionally losing track of time and being late to a few Zoom meetings.
Deep work involves acts of creation, and busy work involves meetings and other acts of coordination and logistics. The goal is to be hyper intentional about busy work and increase the output from deep work. Having a nice set-up is also essential to accompany the new lifestyle. I start to sketch out a mini framework on a piece of paper that looks vaguely like the below:
Kazuo Kitai, Funabashi Story, Funabashi, Japan, 1984–87
Courtesy the artist and Yumiko Chiba Associates
The term furusato (literally “old village”) refers to one’s native place and is associated with nostalgic, warm feelings. Best described by the philosopher Ernst Bloch’s famous words, the home is a place that “shines into the childhood of all and in which no one has yet been.”
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Tina is an NYC-based designer, writer, and investor on a mission to empower purpose-driven ventures built by thoughtful makers.