A 200-Word Mixpost

Picture me lorem ipsuming here because I’m actually just sitting in a chair in an office staring at a big rectangular lamp and typing like we do everyday, which makes it almost depressingly comically mundane and not nearly as exciting as saying something like, “Picture me summiting in the Andes. Here’s a selfie with my sherpa. Notice our stylish gear and admire our intrepidness.” So right. At the terminal, again. Let’s mix it up. I try to spam delight you with a post every Friday morning, which is usually a longer article and a mix of bold-headlined miscellany at the end. Because last Friday’s was so egregiously long, and because so many of you delighted me by reading it and not unsubscribing, I want to reward you this week with it’s opposite. So, I give you a six-track, 200-word mixpost. Like a mixtape. But with words. You’ll get the idea. Except, of course, in the first section, which is 50% over-budget because I have no self-control. (Which is gonna be funny when I give you writing advice later.) But I promise, the rest are just ~200-words a piece. Snack on and prosper!

CB, April 3, 2015

Track (1) Add a Dash of Amazon

Remember those “That Was Easy” buttons Staples sold that some Uncle of yours gave everyone on Christmas that one year? And then you threw yours out a few weeks later? Well, these are basically that, except they do a little more. They’re internet “buy” buttons that you can stick to things and press when you need more of them. Yes, it’s internet of things stuff! Which is supposed to make everyone feel futuristic and smart. But, this is honestly about the   d u m b e s t   thing on the internet of things. When they stop working or break or get clogged up with household grime or chewed by the pet, there will be no Dash button for your Dash button and people will just have to re-order them the old fashioned way at which point they’ll remember that they used to do that with their detergent and diapers and mac and cheese, too, so why order a button for ordering? Also, I’m going to run around my house tapping all these buttons — doing the grocery hokey pokey — when I could tap one button? The one button in my pocket. And come on, what happens when I bump into it? “Hey Amazon, don’t charge me, bro! That was a butt-buy!”

Also, wasn’t one of the selling points of Echo that we could just be like, “Hey, Alexa, add detergent to my shopping list”? I mean, how much more work would it be to get us to “Hey, Alexa, can you buy everything on my shopping list now?” Thanks, Alexa. No stupid plastic buttons all over my house. But seriously, how consumption-decorated are we going to let our world get? Serious question. And yes, I’ve read plenty already about how smart Dash is as a marketing concept, but nothing about how stupid it thinks the rest of us are.

Track (2) One-Way Writing

Writing is hard. We have a surplus of distractions and a deficit of discipline. Here’s what I do to make writing easier. Maybe it’ll help you:

  • Change location. Even if that means by a few feet. Just get away from where you ordinarily work. Coffee shops are good. Ambient noise is a writer’s friend.
  • Disconnect from all internets.
  • Set a timer for 1 hour.
  • Open TextEdit (or your favorite minimalist text editor). Start timer. Start writing. When you feel the urge to hit [delete], hit [return] instead. That urge is editing. You are writing now. You are transferring words from your head to the screen. There is no back; only forward.
  • At 1 hour, stop. Even especially if you are mid-sent
  • Hit “Save.” Feel good about yourself. Schedule another block of time to edit your hour’s worth of word-mess.

I have only received happy feedback about this process. It’s simple. But it helps because we neurotics want to edit as we write, which is destructive to the writing process. It’s important that we express our ideas without prematurely filtering or styling them. Just promise to do the editing later.


Track (3) GenX-Files

My favorite episode of The X-Files is Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. It’s as much a self-parody as it is an earnest look at perception, alienation and narcissism. In Episode 38 of The X-Files Files, host Kumail Nanjiani and Darin Morgan, who wrote Jose Chung’s, discuss:

DM: “I’m shocked that we can even have daily conversations…I feel like we’re all from our own planets…I don’t know how we interact at all.”

KN: “I don’t know how we do anything! This time I was just watching it and he [Charles Nelson Riley, the actor portraying Jose Chung] says, ‘I’m not looking for aliens because I feel like an alien.’ And I think that’s sort of what this episode is, right? We’re all fucking aliens…”

DM: “We’re all aliens on our own planets.”

DM: “…And sometimes we can get a connection, but most times we’re just masturbating to Bigfoot.”

That last reference. It has to do with the closing scene of the episode, which subtly capitalizes on Fox Muldur’s obliquely referenced porn habit. What a perfect way to end an episode that might as well be called GenX-Files.

Track (4) The First Designer

I was chatting recently with a couple designer friends. One of them is somewhat in-between gigs right now and thinking about how he positions himself. So we’re batting that around. And this conversation we’re having feels exactly like so many I’ve had at every single design conference I’ve attended. There’s this angst about craft v. climbing the ladder. Which is weird, right? One shouldn’t sacrifice the other. The conventionally plotted design career starts with making things and ends with planning how things are made and managing the people who make them. But the obvious question is how much distance can we allow between strategy and production before our ideas suffer? This is why so many designers rush the progress of their own careers and then feel a tremendous amount of anxiety once they’re of the Directorati. Because here come some more makers who actually know how things work!

We need to get past titles and bureaucracy and think more about context. So that each designer can simply ask herself, what kind of problems do I solve best? Who do I work well with? And what kind of patterns of work suit my lifestyle? Today’s working world would be truer to the work if the workers didn’t covet titled seniority. If we embraced the truth that context matters more to role-suitedness than any individual skill. So I told my friend, don’t worry about the title. If you want progress, think of yourself as “The First Designer;” the person who creates the system that other kinds of designers inherit and use. Then find the place that needs you.

Track (5) Civ Multiverse, please!

So I’m reading this strange (and purportedly non-fiction) memoir about a Russian psychiatrist’s adventure in treating a Siberian shaman whom she initially diagnoses as schizophrenic. Turns out her story becomes this spiritual sci-fi epic that draws her in to generational shamanic power struggles, spirit channeling, astral travel, parallel realities, and secret Russian time-travel experiments. I know.

Now, at the point in the story when parallel realities come in, she talks a lot about the structure of realities. Of infinite parallel realities existing in a super-helix structure across which some entities can communicate and travel, mostly for the purposes of studying alternatives, not changing the past. As I’m reading this — yadda yadda yadda standard multiverse stuff — I’m thinking about video games. As in, wouldn’t it be cool if instead of the next installment of Civ being just a bigger sim (the whole universe), it was about managing multiple parallel sims? If this is already in the works, great. My only request is that we revert to the low-fi, symbolic graphical sensibility of Civ2. No need to waste any processing power making anything look real. This is a thinker’s game! Am I alone in preferring the look of all the old sim games to their newer versions? Give me Civ Multiverse in the visual style of Oregon Trail and I’ll be a happy geek.

Track (6) Operationalize This

I learned a new word: Operationalize. I’m in the middle of a consulting engagement (with some really nice people, I should add), the goal of which is to get them following a new interaction design process. Easy peasy, right? Like, right now, you’re doing that, that, and then that other thing. But what if you did this, this, and then this instead? Breakthrough! Make it so Operationalize. Of course it isn’t that simple. Not even close. In fact, “operationalize” was invoked in response to me offering some insights on matters that were far outside the scope of our engagement, yet at the heart of who this organization is, not just how they work. So I said a few (smart, I think) things about those matters to which my client said, “Oh yes! We need to operationalize that.” Absolutely. Which reminds me that, while you might conceptually cordon off process from other things central to what a business is, the success of any so-cordoned engagement is going to rest upon everyone’s comfort with stepping outside the lines from time to time. Because there are no process changes that aren’t also positioning, sales, and marketing changes. It’s all connected.

Heavy Rotation: Carrie & Lowell is Sufjan Steven’s latest album, and his best in a long while. If you liked John Wayne Gacy, Jr., this is kind of an entire album of that. It’s darker than the dark we’ve gotten from Stevens in the past, lyrically, and less striving for novel instrumentation. It’s mature and doesn’t mince words. In the third song, he sings, “You checked your texts while I masturbated.” Which means I’ve now used that word twice in one letter. While we’re on the dark side, my buddy Dave introduced me to the music of Bohren & Der Club of Gore, which has been genre-defined as German Doom Jazz. Make of that what you will. But it’s good stuff.

Recent Tabs: The Exo is the latest and greatest in modular emergency shelters. Bucky would be excited about them. Watch this cool video showing how they were designed and made. (My buddy Adam was ADAMant that the Exo appear in “Recent Tabs” this week. Hi, Adam!) Computers and Design, a view from 1989. Nothing to see here. Space Invaders, but like, real space. “Why does our website need to be responsive?” Because. In this aquarium you can shake hands with otters. A project called Parts, Parts, Parts that allows anyone to upload animated clips of their body using webcams and collage them on a webpage is going to include all the parts. Even those from people’s areas. Namsayin’? So if you click this link, don’t say I didn’t prep you for seeing stuff. Coming Soon: Recirculated, 60 hours of interviews with more than 100 librarians about the future of the library. Clean Reader is the dystopic future of censorship. I don’t need the quiz. The pictures make it pretty obvious which bunny I am.

Written by Christopher Butler on April 3, 2015,   In Essays

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