[FKPXLS] VOL.60 / Freedom that’s granted and freedom that’s earned
Freedom isn’t a human right conferred by mythical forces. Nor does the freedom to dream come at birth.
Happy brunch time. I am at the Pace office in New York City, listening to Raingurl by Yaeji that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present.
Currently thinking about the life of the Notoriuos RBG. Wanting to remember.
What we share is Fakepixels, a space for honest inquiry and bold ideas. Here, we are not afraid to ask bold questions and find invisible forces that challenge the status quo.
The Sunday that Wechat was supposed to get banned feels callously beautiful. Instead of cars, it’s the runners and cyclists that are setting the pace for the movement in lower Manhattan. It’s the weekend of Rosh Hashanah. Friends are transiting in and out of the city to reunite with family.
My parents in China messaged me “good morning” before I left my apartment this morning. For the past weeks, they have been sending “good morning” every day just to test if they could still reach me. The Western education that I owe my entire identity to, granted me the problem-solving capability to come up with plan B and plan C. Setting up Telegram took around five minutes. Setting up a VPN took about another five.
“I haven’t dreamt about you for two years. Sometimes I don’t remember what your face looks like anymore.”
My dad sent me a message when I was helping them create accounts for the lifelines of our communications. I asked them to pick their profile photos. They both picked a picture with me, the only child of the family, taken a year ago, the last time we were all physically together.
The U.S. and China relations have been an esoteric issue, like one of the morsels to appear smart at a dinner party. It’s the kind of topic that you are privately obsessed over but never find worthy to kill the mood of an otherwise lighthearted event.
“I never knew you were from China!”
This revelation caught J by surprise as we were dissecting the grilled salmon on our plates. I asked if that came across as a surprise. J said I didn’t give off a Chinese vibe as other Chinese he knew from college. I couldn’t find a proper response, so I commented on the tenderness of the salmon, a commonality that we definitely share that will naturally transition to other commonalities, like the desire to start something of our own one day, the metric of success by which our industry measures us, the sneaker brands we wear, the Peloton instructors that put fire in our core. The conversation can then go on for hours.
On the surface, we may be interchangeable individuals: well-mannered professionals with a healthy dose of dark humor that fails to dim the dazzling optimism towards technologies and innovation. Or future-oriented liberals that take pride in having no ideologies but only form cults that are rational, well-reasoned, supported by historical data and forward-looking views. Or we both speak Chinese. After spending a summer in Beijing, J’s Chinese acquired a hint of Beijing Tone(京腔), which makes him just that much more impressive when flirting with Chinese ladies.
Yet it doesn’t take much but an awakening from a child’s dream to recognize the difference between me and J. To him, it may simply be that I’m Chinese and he’s white and his family has been living in the city for generations. To him, being an entrepreneur may be a choice of ambition, vision, opportunities, but for as far as I can remember, being entrepreneurial feels much more like a necessity, or the only way I know how to live and operate.
The freedom of America, the enterprising spirit that transcends boundaries, the mythical tales of the ever-expanding frontier, translated into pieces of paper a decade ago that granted me the honor to leave home. The departure from home means an invention of a new identity. When I was on the plane flying to the East Coast, where I spent eight years for my education, I wrote on a piece of airplane napkin: “don’t let the past define you, but the present and the future you get to create.”
I don’t know if any of these thoughts crossed my dad’s mind when he departed from his small town where people were starving. As a first-generation college student, he was made to believe that he would be someone special because he was born in the Year of the Dragon. Dragons tend to be the guardians of the families, and my grandma told me that the year my dad was born, the soil was the darkest and the richest.
With such blessing, my dad spent his entire working life sleeping around four hours a day. He did become the youngest MD in China, and that reputation alone helped his entire family—his parents, and the families of his three siblings, a total of a dozen people— live the kind of city life that I once thought reflected the entire world. He was never the beneficiary of his hard work. I barely saw him during the day, as he would be resting from the previous night of operations, and at night, I could hear him leaving home either for work in my sleep. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if the sound of the door closing was part of my dream or it was reality.
Even when he achieved everything he wanted, he was looking for something more, as if he’s staying up all night searching for something that doens’t exist in the material world. I learned from him that freedom isn’t a human right conferred by Heaven or the mythical forces that my grandma assembled. Nor does the freedom to dream come at birth. When you live in a country where freedom is nothing but a manicured prescription, the only way to survive is by standing with power, not truth. To attain truth is to play with fire, yet the truth is the only path to freedom. He once said: “freedom is a capacity and an awareness that needs to be defended.” After navigating the murky water through his entire career, he was more assured that an individual’s freedom to create might be the only thing that matters.
Something clicked as Wechat was about to get banned. Our exchanges on Wechat in the past decade became somewhat of a spiritual witness of our respective becoming. At the beginning of his adult life, the battle was one for survival but afterward has become a search for truth. Every time he called he was inquiring something about what I see, what I hear, and he commented on the difference between my account and what’s portrayed in the news. His dignity to stand with truth in murky water is currently hindering his latest scientific breakthrough from getting the support it deserves. When I first told him about the upcoming ban of Wechat, he was so undisturbed as he saw it coming. That’s when it became clear that the constant loss of agency is the kind of reality that he, and everyone under any authoritarian design, lives with on a daily basis.
My phone buzzed again as I was walking on West Broadway, trying to get to the Pace office, I was told that the Trump administration’s curbs on WeChat were put on hold by a judge. The heroine is Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco, who issued a preliminary injunction on Saturday at the request of the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance. They had argued that prohibitions on the app would violate the free-speech rights of millions of Chinese-speaking Americans who primarily rely on WeChat for their communications.
I put down my phone and start to internalize what it means to operate with two truths at the same time -- the best and the worst, the freedom that’s granted and the freedom that’s earned. I can’t keep all the thoughts in one piece of writing. But perhaps if the details are put together over time, a pulse will emerge, and the integrity of digital construction which attempt to replicate what was once the journey of the American Dream can be recreated in full, no matter how long it takes.
I see it. I want it. I sweat to earn it.
Over the last few years, Gucci has created digital versions of its latest collection for a fashion-themed video game via Drest, athletic wear for TennieCrash, and virtual looks for Genies. And this month, it will launch a platform to let users design virtual sneakers and then put them on their feet using augmented reality.
These items may inspire consumers to buy Gucci products IRL, but they could also have value simply as digital goods. Gucci' CMO Robert Triefus believes in the future of digital goods:
“The virtual world is creating its own economy, and virtual items have value because of their own scarcity, and because they can be sold and shared.”
Gucci’s approach makes sense. The average gamer is 33 years old and upper-middle-class, which aligns nicely with Gucci’s target demographic. Not surprisingly, people typically buy digital goods for the same reasons they purchase physical goods: status, recognition, and access to a sense of belonging.
To wit: Someone recently dropped $2,400 on a pair of Yeezy 2 Cheetahs on the sneaker gaming app called Aglet, created by a former Adidas director. The app centers around buying rare sneakers from brands like Nike, Chanel, and Balenciaga.
Aglet provides users with an in-game shopping spree like rappers and athletes do at Flight Club. As you wear these digital sneakers while making moves in the real world, you start to earn Aglet, the digital currency in-game. The amount is based on the rarity of the sneakers you’re wearing in the app: an AF1 will earn you about 40 Aglet per 1000 steps, but a Yeezy 380 can give you around 1300 for the same distance.
Here’s the interesting bit. As you continue to wear your virtual kicks, they start to wear off and need to be repaired. This is where Recharge and Deadstock stations come into play. They are located at coffee shops, landmarks, or even retail stores, like the Pokemon Go Gyms. This gives sneaker shops and brands a great opportunity to drop easter eggs and connect with their fanbase.
I couldn’t have put it better than brand strategist and executive Ana Andjelic:
In the branded life, anything is an accessory and an opportunity for a modern consumer to flex their aesthetic muscles. Similarly as an ethos can live as a sneaker or as a lamp, consumers are omnivorous in their aesthetic interests.
Blame the modern aspirational economy: it decoupled taste from class and turned anyone with an Internet access into a connoisseur. It’s not cool to follow trends, it’s cool to develop and nurture one’s own taste. Taste-first attitude fuels demand for the rare, vintage and limited edition, fueling supply.
Pokemon Go, Zenly, Waze, and Strava have all enhanced our physical experience through the experience or utility that the digital experience. I’m excited for consumer brands to continue to build on Mapbox’s SDK while innovating on the digital economy centered around digital goods and collectibles to create locality-specific items that are only earned through hard labor and sweat.
I can’t vote, but you should.
As of Monday evening, 407,024 people have registered to vote on Snapchat. With 7 weeks still to go until the election, Snapchat has already registered nearly as many voters as it did in 2018. The vast majority of Snapchat's user base is under 30 years old.
Snap launched its Voter Registration "Mini" app last week in partnership with TurboVote, a tool from Democracy Works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization made up of developers, public policy experts, and civic organizers (🐰 you can donate here 🐰). The Mini allows users to register to vote directly in Snapchat and includes a tracker to monitor how many users have registered to vote.
On Tuesday, President Obama was featured in a new Snapchat PSA that encourages first-time and young voters to register to vote. In the coming weeks, former Ohio governor and Republican presidential nominee John Kasich will also appear in a PSA, as well as a broad array of high profile celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Snoop Dogg, Catherine McBroom, and Quincy Brown.
Patagonia | Vote the Assholes Out
A philosopher chillin' by a rock
Zhuangzi (莊子), a classical Chinese philosophical text provides a different perspective on creative pursuits: striving for originality can be counterproductive when it comes to achieving genuinely creative results.
The text illustrates the point through a short vignette.
A duke was reading in his hall. A wheelwright named Pien, who was cutting a wheel just outside the hall, put aside his hammer and chisel and went in. There he asked the duke: “What do those books you are reading say?”
The Duke responded: “These are the words of the Sages.”
Wheelwright: “Are the Sages still around?”
Duke: “They’re dead.”
Wheelwright: “Well, what you’re reading then is no more than the dregs of the ancients.”
Offended, the Duke said: “When I read, how is it that a wheelwright dares come and dispute! If you have an explanation, fine. If you don’t have — you die!”
Wheelwright: “I tend to look at it in terms of my own work: when you cut a wheel, if you go too slowly, it slides and doesn’t stick fast; if you go too quickly, it jumps and doesn’t go in. Neither too slowly nor too quickly — you achieve it in your hands, and those respond to the mind. I can’t put it into words, but there is some fixed principle there. I can’t teach it to my son ... I’ve gone on this way for seventy years and have grown old in cutting wheels. The ancients have died and, along with them, that which cannot be transmitted ...”
To the wheelwright, the sages’ advice is mere ‘chaff and dregs’ if it’s interpreted as instructions that one can simply follow along. Just like there’s an abundance of books sharing advice on how to become creative, ultimately learning to create is a deeply personal endeavor that — like carving wheels — can’t be fully captured through a programmatic set of directions.
The kind of craft that Pian demonstrates doesn’t aim at novelty or originality, but by engaging with the wheel in a consistent, responsive, and sensitive manner. The master of such craft can’t be accomplished by imposing a plan, or by doing something completely new, but by a series of minor adjustments between contrasting forces like strong and gentle, fast and slow.
I’ve been meditating deeply what it means to let go of the relentless pursuit of originality and the newest, shiniest thing, to intentionally unlearn Apple’s mantra: Think Different. By giving up the idea that creativity is about novelty, I start to see creative pursuit as many parallel experiments that can lead to a series of possible outcomes, and how each of these outcomes looks like when being integrated into its environment.
Fundamentally, a fixation on originality stems from a place of ego — the belief that as humans we are superior to our environment, and even to other humans that may look different from us. The dominant schools of Eastern philosophies refuse to place human beings in a supreme position within the universe, nor do they view human beings and nature as being in a mutually independent or competitive relationship. Developing frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence is not a “natural” development, so from a viewpoint of unity between humans and nature, innovation should be guided and sometimes suppressed by a respect for the natural ways of life.
The Chinese philosopher Thomé Fang has pointed out the commonality of the dominant philosophical traditions in China: an emphasis on the importance of self-restraint, constant introspection, and the endless pursuit of sage-hood. And all these traditions are premised on the notion that social good begins in with individual self-cultivation. In other words, we need to reflect upon our own past and realize that we may be the crux of the problem — that we will not be able to create ethical technologies unless we ourselves are ethically reflective and responsible.
✨ Out There is a new section created to meditate on technologies and philosophies around the world. The goal is to highlight different viewports of innovation that might look different from what has been done, to reflect, unlearn, and discover alternative paths forward. ✨
Photograph | Sebastian Kim, August
The supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, arguably the single most important female lawyer in the history of the American republic, has died from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 87 years old.
In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the second-ever female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court (joining Sandra Day O’Connor).
In her 80s, Ginsburg became the “Notorious RBG,” subject of Tumblrs, hashtags, signature cocktails (the “Ruth Bader Ginger”), nail art, infant Halloween costumes, needlepoint samplers, and bronze busts.
Remembering is honoring.
Born in Brooklyn in 1933, the icon edged into the boys’ clubs at Cornell and Harvard Law School in the ’50s, which had only just begun admitting women. Ginsburg was raising a baby while caring for her husband Marty, who was diagnosed with cancer and finishing her law degree at Columbia.
In 1972, just two months after the Court handed down its ruling in Reed v. Reed, Ginsburg became the first woman to hold a full professorship at Columbia. In an interview with the New York Times, she said:
The only confining thing for me is time. I’m not going to curtail my activities in any way to please them.
Long before “RBG,” the nickname her longtime personal trainer (whom she shares with fellow judge Elena Kagan) gave her was TAN, for “tough as nails.” While battling colon cancer in 1999, she didn’t miss a day on the bench. She didn’t give up waterskiing until her 70s. And she still routinely crushes push-ups, the elliptical, and lunges.
At 82, RBG is often pressed about when she will retire. To which she responded:
When I forget the names of cases that I once could recite at the drop of a hat, I will know.
I don’t know any supplement for the soul more nutritious than the life of a dauntless voice representing the dissent and millions. This is also a sobering reminder that it is through millions of women, millions of unjust after, changes get made.
Visually, blands are simple, neutral and flat. The palette is plain and pastel (with the occasional vibrant splash); the mood is upbeat and happy, or pensive and cool, but never truly real; the dress-code is smart-casual. Bland people are stock-photo attractive (or quirkily jolie laide), and they run the gamut of race, ethnicity and age — intermingled wherever possible.
Ben Schott’s poignant satire of D2C brands and contemporary culture of consumerism. This is definitely not the first, but possibly the best yet.
Growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa, I have always acutely felt my own cowardice compared to the struggles of heroes who still live and loom large in our young nation’s history. How could I ever be as courageous as they, when their deeds birthed a new nation whose freedoms I continue to enjoy?
A necessary examination of the content of courage — what it looks like and what it contains.
We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
A long read, but a clinical dissection of our education system, infused with tactical views on ways to make it better. Did cause minor discomfort as to realize how much is left to unlearn.
Fakepixels is a space for courageous thoughts.
We believe in the power of deep thinking, nuanced dialogue, and creative courage. By being present with the world and with each other, by learning relentlessly, and by bridging knowledge across realities.
We’re here to dream and agitate and question openly and unapologetically. We’re here to be vulnerable, honest, and true. If you are interested in contributing, I would love to have you join the club.
I’m taking my time to get to know each of you, and I do this on nights and weekends. Appreciate your patience in advance. Until then, why don’t you bring a friend?