The century of the self

The evolution of psychology in marketing resulting in the Consumer Democracy. Extrapolate from there.

But to try and be optimistic, I would say, the fairphone idea is a start. Or another result from focus groups. 😛

“Think different”, huh?

This documentary, even though it’s 4 hours in total length, kept me seated until the very end. The lines being drawn, the dots connected are not underlined by opinion and there is no new information shown. After all, it’s about the past.. it connects events that might not be perceived as being effectively connected. And that’s whats mind boggling. To realise something you kinda knew all along but now there’s finally a historical base for that looming feeling..

It is staggering to see how business always managed to turn a societal movement into a market segment. They did it again with all the subcultures. Once they cracked the code of the consumer’s mind, anything can be sold to anyone. Doesn’t matter what. Doesn’t matter where.

I get it with the whole “economy creates wealth for society” idea, trust me. The only problem I have is that a) the same mechanisms are applied to politics with devastating results in the US and Britain (and certainly elsewhere) that completely undermines the idea of democracy (proof me wrong, France, I dare you). And b) the biggest part of society doesn’t even know (ehrm, doesn’t care much either) about the fact that they are just market segments and extrapolated focus groups on such a large scale. I find the science fascinating. And I guess it’s just an extension (evolutionary step?) of the herding applied in previous centuries. The irony is strong though. By trying to be a self conscious individual and being served individually branded mass products, the snake bites it’s own tail, very hard. This freedom of choice is really only virtual in it’s nature. It’s a lie we accept willingly. Because the alternative would probably be worse. But it still feels a bit like brainwashing to me. If there are regulations for how much CO2 is supposed to be in the air because if affects quality of life physically, shouldn’t there be restrictions on neuro marketing because it might affect you in ways that are not entirely predictable and actually trigger some sort of action that you are not aware of?

Honestly, I can’t say wether this is bad or not. I think a capitalist finds it a genius development. But a humanist questions it’s impact on society as a whole. I would be happy with a compromise. But I guess we are actually already there. You can choose between being targeted based on your values or based on your needs. There’s no escape. Soap can make you more masculine, more ecologically conscious, more economically satisfied, more concerned about yourself in general. If you tell someone “it’s fucking soap” he might not have any idea what you’re talking about. Is this being disconnected with reality? Are we just kinda stuck in our quest for self realisation, self awareness, self this, self that .. aren’t we just acting on sort of a proxy guilt when buying stuff that sends 10% of revenues to Africa or what not? Do I always have to choose? What if I decide to not give a fuck anymore (I did)? What if there is something like too much choice?

Oh the irony..

Political systems might fail, sooner or later. But someone is always making a buck somewhere, carrying away some profit from one system’s demise to fuel another’s growth (and subsequent demise). Circle of life, I guess.

Oh, one thing one might add here is that corporations get a hit in the head nowadays thanks to social media quite often. Which is a new twist that wasn’t quite there yet when the documentary was made. I think this is actually quite a good way to keep them in check. No threat works better than a looming boycott. Oh this gets those PR reps fired up in no time.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen such impact on politics in Switzerland yet. But we’re always behind a decade or two on things like that. I remember someone trying to entangle me in a market research phone call for city council last year in Aarau. So maybe.. brace yourselves.

Maybe we should get democracy to update it’s UX and run a few focus groups on the democratic process. And it’s mind boggling that “No, there is no App for democracy, we worry about security and we prefer being manipulated in other ways” while it’s possible to send a picture of my dick half way across the globe in a second or two. Society, I love your priorities.

Resident Evil: The final chapter

This is the worst movie I have seen in a long while. I loves me a good action flick (even cheesy ones) but that’s just ridiculous. I don’t even know where to start so I’ll just leave it at that. I had to skip plenty of times over boring dialogue and even the action had the suspense of a hammock.




It’s dead. Since a long time (2015). Quietly disappeared. Shocking, knowing they had something like $30M in funding. More..

The struggle

I am currently recovering from a burnout. Concentration, the lack thereof, is what bothers me most. It’s hard to accept that there are very hard constraints in place about the things I can do and the things I can’t.

It feels as if I’m still a long way from being able to have real focus for a few hours in a row, but it gets better. Very slowly.

I removed myself from the social media circus, got rid of all the news alerts and news apps and that indeed makes a difference. I am currently considering removing all portables from my life. Smart phone, tablet.. or at least deleting everything but the eBook Reader App.

It’s still hard from me to even focus on reading a long text „casually“ (skipping lines without noticing and things like that).

It feels like I switched from a sixteen track recording machine to a crappy dictation device in terms of my attention span and parallel processing abilities.

I (my ego) want to do more but my brain simply doesn’t play ball. It’s frustrating and humbling, constantly overestimating my own abilities.

A week goes by so quickly, it looks blurry and there is no feeling of achievement. Simple tasks (sending a letter to some insurance) take days and weeks. And I can only focus on one thing, while everything else immediately fades away and remains forgotten. Task switching turned from something I did 20 times a day to a sheer impossible thing. The transition is incredibly hard. I even forget about the piece of paper where I wrote down some things or my todo list. Heck, I forget that I have one in the first place.

I noticed I can spend three or more hours reading stuff on Reddit without even noticing how time goes by. Even though there would be a hundred better ways to spend time. All those distractions are like heroine for my brain. There’s only one channel available and having this channel filled with a stream of information blocks everything else out. Ironically, even this lone stream is abruptly interrupted with one single notification of an email on the top of my iPad. Toxic.

TL;DR, change things while you still can, because recovering from the Big Bang that happens when you’re completely depleted takes a long time and isn’t pleasant at all. It feels like starting from scratch all over again, tormenting your ego in the process. Not worth it.

This again

Webdesign is getting boring? Frankly, I disagree.

Not the youngest of articles but the same discussion happened on medium the other day. So this comes up again and again and I can very well understand the feeling.

I really get it. We used to have a lot of fun with bevels and fake shiny plastic back in the day. Oh how I enjoyed Winamp skins, noise filters and fake mercury letters. After all it was what got me hooked when I was 14 or so.

We actually aspired to create more user friendly websites for a long while, making fun of animated gifs.. now look where we ended up: the web is (well, mostly) rather user friendly and everybody and their dogs creates animated gifs. hehe. So one problem is solved, the other had some kind of pop culture revival.

Content first, no bullshit design doesn’t need to be boring. Just because Ruder and other typographers established structured and well organised grid layouts (that we all love), print hasn’t become any more boring either. The fact that we have great grid frameworks for the web takes a lot of fiddling away and we can figure out how to use this to still create individual layouts within the constraints and not sacrifice UX and accessibility along the way. It is possible to create visually pleasing editorial content on the web and not sacrifice UX. However, for the latter you need the client, the budget and the coders that don’t try to explain to you about DITA and what not. I’m sure we find a middle ground, friends. 🙂

Like with all things though, that comes with a price. You can’t expect to quote a website template for 600 bucks and be left with creative freedom. Creativity and design processes are rather inefficient by nature and there’s a good chance that the longer an idea boils, the more refining is applied, the better the result. Now if you complain about boring websites and push prices to the bare minimum and change a few lines of a themeforest template, there’s your problem. For a company, 1000$ doesn’t make a difference if they know the value of what they receive will actually improve much, as well. On a side note, I usually suggest to clients that have basically no budget at all to go for that themeforest route but at the same time making it clear to them that while this might work for starters, it scratches only the surface of what’s possible. For some it matters, for some it doesn’t.

If you think Webdesign is boring, maybe stop using premade templates completely, where you initially think you want to change certain things but then forget about it because it’s much more convenient to use what’s already there. And then there’s a deadline. And the guy liked that photo of a pasture in the hero area that ships with it. Why bother. But if you succumb to this workflow, you’re bound to be bored.

Accept that you are always designing for an audience. If this audience is supposed to find their way and information quickly, there’s only so much options. And that is a good thing for everyone! But there are times where an audience is different, where you are completely in charge of things.

This doesn’t mean that you have to get bored. Drop (or rethink) your dribbble and make a kick ass weird portfolio site that shows off the freaky, non mainstream side of you. Without the hero images and the sidebar and the sexy smiling lady with a headset..

Or make a graphically wild mobile app using Ionic and Cordova just for the heck of it.

Or anything, really.

I know, because I made the same mistake a few years ago and it took me a while to realise what has happened. If you get bored, quality drops, money becomes the main focus and all the love is gone before you know it. If you’re like me, maybe you need to look for contrast to restore balance, thus maybe even discovering new things in the process.

We design for clients, we are bound to budgets and opinions and corporate identities. But we can also design for ourselves from time to time. I did this way too rarely in the past couple of years and I have to rediscover, for example, my love for bold typographic minimalism and noisy collages.

Question design trends, be skeptic. I was never a big fan of jumping on the bandwagon. And I have a hard time connecting to the so called design community because the weight of egos is pushing too hard for my taste. There’s enough kids running after (insert latest design trend here). At least that’s how I feel about it, anyways. There’s things to consider and then there’s the funky gradient everybody uses for their icon backdrop I don’t give a fuck about.

Why the West rules – for now

Being plagued by insomnia might have its perks after all, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gotten my hands on that huge history book torrent. And this one is worth it.

History book by Ian Morris. Different perspective on history that might trigger a few “figured that out already” moments for Civilization players. 😉 Especially interesting because things are slightly starting to shift again on the globe. Time to put that in perspective.

In a way a big data approach to history minus fancy graphs, but maybe someone gets around to it. *hint hint*

Interestingly, the background of the author underlines my theory that   specialists alone don’t quite make the soup on their own and isolated views tend to be.. isolated.

Aluminium hats

While putting down my thoughts in the previous article I remembered a discussion I had with someone about Zero Point Energy and the conspiracy theory surrounding it.

That was what led me originally to stumble over the Anti Zensur Koalition, a congress held annually in Switzerland where speakers present their theories. Of course you don’t go there to discuss, you go there to have your existing opinion underlined.

They provide a platform for all the people that nobody else listens to. It is where I found a video from a guy rationalising the ZPE conspiracy while googling. Obviously you can find a speaker for every trait of the current catalogue of conspiracy theories. From the UFOs that land on pyramids, to 9/11, to the war in Syria (geopolitics offer a lot of meat) and so on. But also peculiar topics like vaccination, sex ed in school and other borderline religious topics covered underneath a pseudoscientific framework that reeks of self-dramatisation. Oh, another narcissist trait. What gives..

This network is built entirely by this guy. Also includes a riff on the new age Christian movement, a sect (sorry, “closely knit living community”) as well as an educational web TV channel for children (!!) explaining Russian geopolitics (!!!) and how Putin is a great guy (!!!!!).

I wonder where all the cash comes from. I’m obviously in the wrong business.

Thoughts on esoterica and belief

It’s not particularly hard to notice that there’s a large demographic of people that are not feeling well, physically or mentally. It’s a very, very receptive audience. After all, who would not like to feel better? The ultimative, unbeatable value proposition. Right before “making my life easier”.

Add to that the great mental pressure, stress and everything we face on a daily basis, and the target demographic just expanded to 95% of the population.

It’s really just a matter of time until someone tries to earn cash with some business case or product. Some are valid, though there’s a large amount of snake oil being sold.

A lot of companies make a shitload of money with questionable products and services that can’t withstand any scientific testing. The defensive argument that “not everything can be scientifically proven” is their last defense. Instead of helping us to understand in scientific terms why their product works and helping mankind as a whole by working together with scientists, they create a parascientific explanation that uses fragments and terms they read or heard somewhere. These arguments can be debunked in mere minutes and reduced to what they are, frauds.

Good example: John R. Brinkley. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t..

As another interlude, belief systems, religions are closely tied to narcissism. So watch out for those guys. Even in general, actually.

Being polite, tolerant and having an open mind, it is almost impossible to talk to these people and pushing for the scientific method to be applied. Or just basic skepticism.

And this is where we enter the deep realms of the human mind, willing to believe, craving for it even. And, belief is contagious. Spiritual groups, sects, organized religion.. even the dotcom hype was fundamentally built on beliefs, not rational evidence. These beliefs tend to collapse sooner or later and leave large craters. And what they promised (a belief is almost always closely tied to a promise) turns into a mountain of bullshit. But instead of learning.. off we go to believe something else.

It is only when belief is underlined by rational arguments or strictly spiritual and focused inwards that it does not create harm or trouble of some kind over the course of time. As soon as it is organized, capitalized and put on the same level as science or denounces the scientific method as a way to silence them, things go dark, quickly.

Belief can also make us do things that are essentially positive and worth striving for. But from my point of view, there is far more harm that sprung from the beliefs and manipulation thereof, than otherwise.

For example.. I just recently came across an organization that holds congressses with thousands of visitors where prominent conspiracy theorists get a platform under the protection of proclaimed free speech or censorship, because the press wouldn’t publish their stories. Those people are closely related to the world of esoterica and organized belief in the form of sects. They are sometimes the same people. They are trying to nurture some kind of parallel society. Parascience.

It is especially tempting for us to form empathy with individuals or groups who proclaim that they are being silenced or otherwise mistreated. It’s human nature. And a cause to fight for something.. for the good and the wrong reasons. It’s easy to join a fight as it gives meaning and an answer to one fundamental question about existence. Also a very prominent target group.

Humans can do one thing quite well, which is fighting for their group even if the reasons are wrong, masked in manipulated belief or fear or flat out economical and egoistic. Anyone remember the crusades, colonialism, World War One, Two, ..? There was no war that sprung from a rational, non egoistic argument, ever. All the good things belief has achieved pale in comparison.

We thought we left the Middle Ages behind us, but just proclaiming enlightenment doesn’t change the fundamental human nature on a global scale. For a brief moment in history, science was globally accepted as the harbinger of utopia. A golden age, if you will. And then it dawned on the 98% that don’t have a PhD, that even science will not be able to solve all of their problems. The belief that science can fix everything is declining and the resulting vacuum needs to be filled. Your cue, guy who sells a piece of copper that deflects energies flowing in the wrong direction or removing chalk from tap water by adding an electro magnet. And so on.

Now let me add a disclaimer: if you believe that you can gain energy from the cosmos by meditating and it makes you feel better, that is perfectly fine. It’s not the cosmos but your own mind and body and we don’t quite know how it works, but that’s dandy. You are essentially working on yourself and working out, mentally. Assuming you can get more energy by sticking a crystal on your forehead however is wrong. And it’s especially wrong that you assume you can replace working on yourself with buying a shortcut of some sort. And it’s even worse that someone is making cash from this well meant aspiration of yours.

I don’t think that people offering esoteric services or products are evil or try to knowingly rip someone off. Most of them have a genuine belief that what they do works.

And that’s exactly the problem.


The internet is different now

Cleaning up my digital footprint allowed me to revisit a lot of services I have used in the past and basically just forgot about in the last 7-8 years. In the process, I realised how fragmented the internet is. How much content is there, outdated, sitting on a bleak corner of the web on a service that once thrived and has been superseded by “the next cool thing”? On my travels to delete accounts (where possible, actually.. sadly not a given 🙁 ) I haven’t used for the past few years, I ended up on a number of sites where contacts, like me, just disappeared. for example. I once practically lived on this site. Nowadays it’s a paid service as far as I can tell and most of the people once using it have moved on, years ago. I ended up not deleting my account because I spent so much time on there. Scrobbled each track I listened to for years. Brought a tear to my eye.

I also deleted my yahoo account with all Flickr content, all my tweets since 2008 (I can’t give up the handle, not yet 😉 ), instapaper and so on. All of this information was sitting there, a lifespan of a few hours, maybe days, and then it’s obsolete. It lost all relevance of the present and is too trivial to revisit. It’s aspect of digital transience and impermanence is the only thing that makes me think Snapchat has a reason to exist 😉

Every time I got that “Your account has been deleted” message, I felt a bit lighter. This is probably very subjective but all these unused accounts and galleries,  and accumulations of data are somehow present in your subconscious at some point. Especially if you practically lived and worked on the internet for the past 15 years. It’s a weird, nagging reminder of the things you actually wanted to do but simply never got around to. There’s just too much.

I wanted to read more books. seemed nice to help achieve that. Joined early to check it out and to be closer to my love back then who was on a different continent. But I didn’t read more. I was just feeling bad about the fact that I didn’t read what I wanted to. Doesn’t help. Wrong medicine for the symptoms.

One can extend this line of thoughts to assume that compared to 10-15 years ago, every human with a more or less active online life spends hours each week, just consuming social media. Or talking about it. Here a minute. There a minute. The latest Trump tweet. The latest craze on Facebook. A looming thought of whether what just happened is worth writing a fragment of text in an app or sharing an image. Or thinking about a witty comment. Reading spam on LinkedIn and browsing over pages of information that does, in the end, barely provide any significant value. I would go as far as to say that by logging users movements and aggregating everything, the only noticeable value is the ad revenue and behavioral data for the platform itself.

Honestly. What did we do before that? I can’t quite figure that out anymore. Was there more “downtime”? Alas, 24 hours is still not upgradeable in terms of day and night cycles, so.. people were interacting just as much, probably, but the main difference is that there were clear, physical constraints. With the world and everyone you ever knew in your pocket (and then some!),  24/7, things are quite different and I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

I certainly don’t want to whine about the “good old times”, god forbid. All of this has a use for something. The tech is super interesting. The possibilities amazing. And I just love the net. But think about this: if you want to actually read, think and digest all that information that is being thrown at you, just right after you log in to twitter or FB, so you can actually properly process it.. impossible. It has no other option than being superficial. Or polarizing. Because of the format, because of the way it’s consumed. Hors d’oeuvres of meaningful information are being served, a quick snack that is easily digestible and off we browse to the next picture of a cat doing something funny. Putting as much as possible into a small space that moves down the timeline as fast as it appeared.

I don’t know if we collectively grasped this yet. But in just a few years, the world turned into this fancy data highway everybody was talking about 20 years ago with sparking eyes. Huge leaps in technological terms and certainly also in bringing people together. But as with everything, the dosage makes the poison. Well that sounds a wee bit dramatic but you get the point. 😉

On one hand I love how the web changes quickly and grows, becomes more interactive and accessible. On the other hand, how much of what we do online is sustainable? In the sense that it creates real, deep value for our lives, and not just for the data mining industry? How much of what we do online should be permanent, even? Essentially, do we need to be connected 24/7?

Now let that sink in. Someone known for trying to be online as much as possible for the past 20 years questions this very ambition.

I remember quite clearly why I joined networks like Xing and LinkedIn. I had this idea that just by exposing myself, someone would find me and I would be able to connect in the professional environment to grow my then newly started freelance business. So I joined, added all the people I know that I could think of and joined groups and read what other people wrote. This caused me to realise that the only way to get that exposure I was looking for would mean to invest a significant effort to even get noticed. If you aren’t someone who naturally gets into a position to receive attention even in real life, it certainly will not happen in a social network online either. You have to offer something, be captivating, be a magnet. Well, I am sorry, but that is not who I am. But as it goes, you think you need to do something that is not part of your nature and that causes actually a lot more energy to get burned than what you get back. I haven’t got a single lead from networks like that but I still could live well and projects came in. Because of the quality of my work, my work ethics and my skills. Not a profile.

I don’t have social anxiety. I am just more comfortable and happy, the less I have to think about social stuff. Not a people person. It takes a while to come to terms with that. And while every superficial handbook on “success” might tell you otherwise, it’s completely OK to be like that. I only feel free when I have the opportunity to express myself without PR filters or masquerading as something that I am not. As soon as I tried to go against my nature (“but you need to go out there etc”), I usually ended up in a spot where I don’t actually felt comfortable. I can’t force myself to go into a single bar or join a dating website without feeling that this is the bane of me – same applies for networking events or other “social” events. Forcing something that just isn’t is brutally inefficient. the best things in my life happened by accident and where completely unforeseeable. And they didn’t happen because I was striving for them. I just did what I felt was right and that hardly included any kind of social networking.

To be fair, you are always exposed a little bit unless you become a hermit living off the wood’s resources. So you are bound to bump into things. Exposure is still happening, even if you don’t force it.

I think what I am trying to say is this: part of the reason why it feels right for me personally to get rid of all the social media consumption and exposure and getting rid of all the stale information is that I didn’t join this up for the right reasons to start with. It was against my nature then and it was against my nature now. So there is no point.

Blogging on the other hand (not to mix this up with serious journalism) is like walking down the street and meeting someone you haven’t seen in a while. I walk down the street not to get noticed or wait for someone to bump into me or jump at random people advertising my services or themselves.

It is part therapy, part curiosity. I can reminiscence about life and those who feel similar will feel maybe connected, others turn around. But I am not forcing myself into this position.

I guess I drifted off-topic again a bit – but one “perk” of being forced down to doing nothing lies in the ability to take a step back and look at everything with a certain distance. I can only recommend that.