[FKPXLS] VOL.46 / this is us, forgetting

When we can't see the future, we look to the past to try to find answers.

When we can't see the future, we look to the past to try to find answers.

Charts, diagrams, models we can uncover in our historical archive become very attractive as we try to make sense of things. Since the beginning of recorded time, writers and thinkers have intuited a pattern to human history. The 14th-century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun first formulated this idea into the theory that history seems to move in four acts, corresponding to four generations.

  • The first generation is revolutionaries who want to make a radical break with the past, establishing new values but also creating chaos in the struggle to do so.

  • The second generation craves some order. They are still feeling the heat of the revolution itself, having lived through it at a very early age, but they want to stabilize the world, establish some conventions and dogma.

  • The third generation feels less passionate about protecting the values of the founders of the revolution. They are pragmatists. They want to solve problems and make life as comfortable as possible. Material concerns predominate, and people can become quite individualistic.

  • The fourth generation feels that society has lost its vitality and begins to question the values they have inherited, some becoming quite cynical. A crisis of sorts emerges.

In 1991, two pop historians, William Strauss and Neil Howe had taken a step further and applied such generational theory in their work "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069". They created a satisfying and mesmerizing model of generational repetition, making the case that U.S. history moves in 80-year cycles, with generations moving through 20-year periods of influence called turnings. The cycles have highs and lows interspersed with major crises in history like the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. Each of the four generations embodies fundamental characteristics, and these characteristics repeat themselves throughout history. 

World War I Centenary: Flappers
Flappers were young women who got a taste of independence during the war and found they didn't want to define themselves through marriage and motherhood. Flappers in the U.S. and the U.K. embraced the 1920s spirit of pleasure, exploration, and freedom.

The book views historical figures as products of their "generational cycles":

"The colonial Glorious Revolution stamped them for life as public persons, institution founders, collective builders and secular dreamers."

"Trying to make the best of a dangerous world and then getting damned for it." Twain's "The Gilded Age" "described the metal and muscle."

Scott Fitzgerald said they were marked by "the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all gods dead."

"Frenetic, physical, slippery. These kids sensed that adults were simply not in control of themselves or the country."

Just like astrology, the lack of scientific support for this idea hasn't stopped it from being powerful. Even as the media characterizes this generational teleology as kooky, they usually fail to mention that these ideas are widely prevalent in mainstream media, advertising, and popular culture. These narratives, despite being criticized as oversimplistic and borderline manipulative, are like prisms through which we can gain the necessary understanding to act urgently in response to the environment. As Morgan Housel wrote in his latest piece "Permanent Assumption":

History is mostly the study of unprecedented events, ironically used as a map of the future. Stuff evolves, paradigms shift. So what worked in the past may not work today or tomorrow. The most valuable part of history is studying how people behave when the world changes, because it’s the most consistent thing over time.

What's different now is that with 90% of the U.S. population as internet users (81% for the developed world and 41% for the developing world), we can actually visualize how we— as a generation — are reacting.

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Source: Hedometer

With all the readily available public data, the zeitgeist of time become more quantifiable and palpable. D'Arcy Coolican, Partner at a16z, gave a presentation on product-zeitgeist fit:

The fact is that people need a different motivation to try something new, something that connects with them emotionally rather than functionally. It’s a seemingly simple idea can create powerful business advantages, a concept I call product zeitgeist fit (PZF): when a product resonates with the mood of the times. It’s the thing that makes users and employees want you to win. It’s also the thing that helps other stakeholders—media and trend watchers, big companies, other builders—spot the next big thing.

Coolican's presentation

He gave a few examples to spot the zeitgeist:

  • "Nerd Heat": When the most talented, hardest working, and most in-demand people—the product managers, engineers, and data scientists—are so intrigued by a product that they're working on it, excited by it, and trying to make it a thing.

  • The "Despite Test": When people are using a product despite the fact that it's not the best thing out there.

  • The "T-shirt Test": If people with no connection to the company are wearing their t-shirts or putting their stickers on their laptops or wearing their socks, that desire to associate with the idea indicates as much a movement as a product.

  • The "Eyebrow Test": In the early days, things that have product zeitgeist fit often feel misunderstood or controversial. At first blush, the conceit may even raise a few eyebrows.  

Spotting the zeitgeist has become easier with the internet, but how to make the most of the zeitgeist, and act accordingly, is still somewhat obscure. To make the most of the zeitgeist, we have to first begin with a simple premise — I'm a product of the times as much as anyone; the generation I was born into has shaped my thoughts and values.

Such self-awareness needs to be developed and trained like a muscle. Without this uncomfortable confrontation with ourselves, we'd lose ourselves in the information deluge and the emotional upheaval. As Mike Solona wrote in his latest piece JUMP:

People are constantly wrong. Stories are constantly corrected. That we are not yet skeptical of every new piece of information we receive, with so much evidence all around us now that misinformation is not the exception but the rule, is indication that skepticism of this kind is simply not something we are meaningfully capable of on our own. 

He cautions the danger of the mob:

The more people there are around us shouting, the harder it is to think for oneself. Everything inside of us is drawn to group consensus, and when the group is angry we frame the impulse as thinking with the mob. Intuitively, when we’re not inside of it, we know it’s dangerous. We even have a word for it — groupthink. But thought, here, is only an illusion. Mobs don’t think at all. They only burn, and when the burning stops there’s nothing left.

Let's say we indeed are capable of staying level-headed, recognizing the madness, AND having a critical view of the world — what's next? When chaos is at play, the most difficult thing to do to distinguish signal from randomness.

The encouraging part about being an avid student of the cultural zeitgeist is that if we feel from deep within some frustration with the way things are in the world, or if we sense there is something that is missing in the culture, we can be almost certain that others in this generation are feeling the same way. What if we assume that cultural zeitgeist is one of the non-random variables as a result of chaos? For example, a new set of norms and heuristics will certainly emerge out of this crisis, and the internet, having expedited the adoption of these new rules through public accountability, will have to adjust to a new value system, both ethically and economically.

We can't foresee what those norms and values will look like, just like marketers, founders, and investors would like to transfuse blood with a gen-z consumer to get a taste of the Tik-Tok addiction. What what's happened again and again in history, is the organization of groups around new ideas or values mobilized through the latest technology that allows us to bring like-minded people in a novel way — from French salons to Twitter flash mobs to Tik Tok clans. We tend to over-index on looking into the future but sometimes neglect that what we do have control over the present infrastructure through which these new norms are created. One way to hear those voices is to go meet where people are, and those voices of anger and hope are almost always reminiscent of one of the times from the past. Besides now, we can pick channels and dial the volume to our likings. The first step to self-awareness is to know the frequency we currently operate on.

The future might look quite different from the past, but there's a lot to learn from the collective experience of future creation. It’s better to remember than to forget.

The Midnight Gospel (Soundtrack) - YouTube
Image | Midnight Gospel

Faceless congregation

Misai is an A.R. filter app for iOS using new features of ARKit3.

Around 70% of Americans have a video camera with them: their smartphone. This allows us to capture stories from the front lined and from every angle, connected straight to media platforms, and aggregated where they can be studied and analyzed.

Greg Doucette, a lawyer from North Carolina, has been compiling attacks by police through a Twitter thread. At the time of writing, this thread had 60k+ retweets.

Independent developers are rapidly developing software to obliterate the activists' faces. One web app removes metadata from photos, and another pixelates images to mask users' identities. Privacy is guarded, while accountability challenged.

Seven wonders of the internet

virtual minecraft library combats government censorship by housing banned journalism

A group of designers made a library within the Minecraft that works as an internet loophole to combat censorship. The 'uncensored library' contains articles and information censored in many countries but is accessible through the game.

virtual minecraft library combats government censorship by housing banned journalism

The massive digital library contains more than 12.5 million Minecraft blocks and took 24 builders from 16 different countries over 250 hours to design and build. it houses real articles written by five journalists from censored countries including Russia, Mexico, Egypt, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia, providing unblocked news to readers who wouldn't otherwise be able to access it.

What we wear is who we are

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Anew F.B. patent that allows general users to turn photos into ads. I can now take a photo of my new Nike kicks, it auto finds the product and I can tag the product and be paid a referral fee.

The tech is not new and has been made more accessible through companies like WANNABY. The networked camera has manufactured desires of wanting someone else's closet or lifestyle, but when the value of possession decreases with abundance, the value of taste and curation increases.

Expectations of brands continue to evolve as people now look to companies to fill philanthropic voids.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, 90% of consumers say that brands have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people, and 71% of global consumers agree that if they perceive a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.

Strategy consultant Julian Cole and Lexie Pérez compiled 75+ brand responses to BLM, and provided some actionable "dos-and-don't" s.

TL;DR: action speaks louder than words.

Regardless of the creativity (or the lack of) seen in external campaigns, constructing internal changes will take time. Marketing professor (influencer?) S. Galloway provided a good list of questions to start:

  • Are blacks represented in senior leadership at your organization?

  • Are mechanisms and resources devoted to recruit, retain, develop, and promote black employees?

  • Would your black employees say they are treated and paid equitably? Have you asked them?

  • Would your black employees find your messaging consistent with their experience in your organization? Have you asked them?

  • Is diversity and inclusion isolated to singular events (e.g. Black History Month; when there are massive global protests) or part of a sustained effort and the ongoing fabric of the culture and values of your organization? Is your senior leadership involved and supportive of these efforts?

  • Is your organization actively investing in the black communities in which they are based and operate?

  • Does your organization invest in cultivating black businesses as vendor partners and service providers?

  • Have you personally mentored a black associate?

This section is created by our wonderful Fakepixel's contributor Kevin, who's currently based in Shanghai, China.
Every time we chat, he surprises sand impresses me with his insights on China and its culture, and he will be delivering freshly-baked think pieces, raw snapshots of what's going down on the other side.
在抖音,我看到了“摆地摊”背后的秘密(ZT)

A man that goes by the name of "flea-market bro" sets up shop every night to sell his collection of cosmetics and toys. Often with his clever way with words and sometimes borderline cringy pickup lines, he entertains the passersby as well as his 75k followers on Tik Tok.

Prime minister Li Keqiang's "flea-market economy" initiative aims to kickstart SMB activities as the country reopens after COVID-19. The low friction of creation and wide reach paint the new "Chinese Dream" for the underdogs and the grassroots. In addition to the wide adoption of Tik Tok, China's e-commerce usage and state-directed banking system give the country room to stimulate consumption when their economy slumps.

Courses sold on Kuaishou (Chinese TikTok competitor) on how to set up a flea market

Some creators decide to start by selling small quantities offline while generating content for their online followers, and once they gain traction, they'll start selling online through live streaming. In this case, the offline piece serves as both a revenue and content stream, and along with the online market, creates a self-serving feedback loop. On the other hand, some creators who already have a large following online can go back offline as a way to diversify their content. In contrast with the influencers on Youtube/Instagram, Chinese Tik Tok sellers are not tied down by sponsors and contracts, and they're incentivized to create their own unique product mix to differentiate from their peers.

As a collective, we are all entering into somewhat of a "fear-of-failure" mode. Some cope with ice-cream and Netflix, others with non-stop working or new side projects. (For me, I do all of the above). The least I want to admit is that "I don't know".

As a student, there used to only be three possible courses of action when you don't know the answer to a question.

  1. Admit you don't know the answer.

  2. Pretend you know the answer even if you know you don't.

  3. Imitate someone who seems to know the answer even if you can't be sure they do.

Organizational sociologist Vaughn Tan argues that with technology, now there is a fourth viable option: external memory systems (e.g. search engines), which makes learning into ritual and that technology now disguises ritual as actual learning. In other words, I can easily "appear smart" on a subject by a series of Google searches and Wiki page hopping without really understanding neither the answer nor the question.

That's a powerful thought to chew on, especially as a chronic infophilic who spends too much time parallel processing search queries. I shared this sentiment with my coach, and she shared a method called Extrapolation: to compartmentalize your thoughts and actions you need to close them before you move on to another task.

It's simple to implement. I ask myself a few questions to extrapolate what I need to take away before I move on to the next task:

  • What did I learn?

  • Why is that useful for me?

  • How / when will I use this?

Parking

"Ciné-park", drive-in. Montreal. Saturday 22th May, 1982. © Guy Le Querrec
A Trip West: A drive-in theatre. San Francisco. USA. 1966. © Bruce Davidson
German clubs hosts drive-in raves amid coronavirus lockdown ...
German club Index held a 'drive-in rave' during COVID-19, attracted more than 500 participants

As social distancing restrictions have prevented social gatherings and closed cinemas, restaurants, and bars, drive-in movies are experiencing something of a resurgence.

The first drive-in theater can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century, it was not until the mid-1940s when their popularity surged due to the era's baby boom and rise of car ownership, which made them a popular family attraction. Unused spaces such as sports fields have increasingly been repurposed as temporary theaters: a small slice of reassuring nostalgia in an uncertain world.

Lots

Berkshire Mall, closed in 2019. Lanesborough. Massachusetts. USA. November 2019. © Mark Power

The nostalgia also reminds us of the cultural artifacts that are slowly fading out of sight. A third of America's malls are going to shut permanently by 2021, according to one former department store executive.

When walking around countless small towns in the middle of nowhere, photographer Mark Power noted the accuracy of an observation made by 'Rust' Cohle in the television series True Detective: "This place looks like someone's memory of a town", and, added Power, "that memory is fading." 

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Tina is a designer, writer, and investor who's online 24/7 hunting for ideas and ventures built with grit and purpose. Born in China. Based in NYC. You can find her elsewhere on TwitterInstagram, or a corner café.