May 28, 2020

Content time capsule #1

Themes: reading, self-sufficiency, escape

Been sitting with some half-baked blog posts, but nothing I'm completely happy with putting up yet. Instead, I'm taking another partial step toward original writing: a content list, because I've encountered some really wonderful stuff lately. Most of all, I want to remember the fact that I encountered them all at the same time and they are marinating together in my brain-soup.

"Reading the Blueprints for Our Future After the Virus" by Brian Merchant

A content list in itself, and quite a dense but really wonderful read. I'm stunned at how it mirrors what I've been seeking in my own reading. It goes in a lot of directions, because there are a lot of books (16 in total!), but manages to be thoroughly hopeful, thoughtful, and appreciative.

If the stories of our past and future hold any wisdom, and I’m sure they do, the post-pandemic world will be wildly variegated: desperate and ameliorative, chaotic and promising, hopeful and oppressive. Income inequality may even out, surveillance powers will be invoked, public health systems will be revolutionized and fed with new data, work may decay or be renewed as corporate platforms seek to monopolize and seize power. New spaces may open, online and off; new equilibriums may be set. We must prepare.

What a passage! The simple intensity of the last sentence and not knowing what exactly comes next. Knowing it will be hard, but also that we have the tools and determination to prepare for it. The whole thing conveys the privilege that I feel right now, to be able to sit at home and preoccupy myself with learning things that I hope will make a difference in the future. I didn't know I would finish college and immediately sit down to read so many more things! But everywhere I look, more things to read and comprehend and synthesize into my own beliefs (I'm working on it!).

Like Merchant, I've been asking a whole lot of how did we get here? And many of the answers have been in history, society, and ideology. I happened to read a WaPo review of Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty, which gets at this idea of looking to the past:

Progress exists, but it is a struggle, and it depends above all on rational analysis of historical changes and all their consequences, positive as well as negative.

Lately I've seen people ripping on the abundant use of the phrase "unprecedented times" to describe what we're experiencing. Even if this is unprecedented, I think there can be lessons learned and applied from the past. However, I'm also wary of predictive systems are built upon explaining the past (economics and Wall Street, I'm looking at you).

Also, Piketty's earlier book, Capital in the 21st Century, has been on my apartment's coffee table for a very long time and I didn't know anything about his work until now. Eager to take some time reading him.

No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier

Another one of those deep dives into a hot SV company and its culture, because I do so love Uncanny Valley and Bad Blood. But this one was way more beautiful than I expected. Frier writes this formative scene for Kevin Systrom where his professor gives him a camera that takes blurry square photos and tells him,

a higher-quality tool wouldn't necessarily create better art. "You have to learn to love imperfection."

Hello, is this a movie?! And when Frier name-drops Jack Dorsey for the first time (Dorsey was Systrom's mentor at the podcast company that would later spin out Twitter), I literally heard an audience cheering in my head like it was some cameo. What is wrong with me.

Anyway, the novel gives some interesting perspective into how Instagram was built. Simpler times, really, when everyone seemed to be betting big on social networks and didn't even care whether there was a path to monetization. But really, the commitment (obsession?) with community, brand, and art wasn't something about Instagram that I'd known a lot about before. It was certainly not made to scale at first, but I guess it ended up working. landing page

Companies have really nailed the whole manifesto-on-landing-page thing, huh? This one resonated with me. The "first things first" approach to privacy and data. Sincere, thoughtful, and more human technology. Thinking of other companies like Cocoon and that have made this their brand.

My Mind resonated with me because I'm currently consuming a lot of content and trying to make sure I use it wisely. Also I used the mind-as-a-sponge metaphor in my college essays, so I liked that a lot.

Update: I ended up trying the beta, but decided it wasn't worth the paid plan for me right now. Really respect the brand & values, and might reconsider later.

Call Me By Your Name (2018 Film)

I know I'm many years late to watching this. But the vibes are simply immaculate. I don't know anything about critiquing film. All I know is that this made me feel things. The Italian sun! The summer night! All the lovely bits and all the cringey bits, and all the moments that were just thinking, breathing, being. The ending scene where Chalamet's just staring into the fire and his expression lets you know his mind is going over the entire relationship one more time.

And that wishfulness for my own pastoral world leads me to the next piece,

"My Perfect Impossible Cottagecore Dream" by Mary Retta

Lately, I've been joking with friends about the resurgence of cottagecore. We were all on Tumblr back when cottagecore had its moment. And right now it's really hard not to dream of a simple, self-sufficient life. Plants, candles, gingham, berries, baked goods, the works.

The lifestyle that cottagecore represents — having your own home, owning land, being self sufficient and living off your own labor — embodies the desires that most young people have and are scared, right now especially, we might never achieve.
Though they were born out of a vague nostalgia for simpler times, they are fed by a growing uncertainty for my future, resulting in a fantastical utopia that combines the best elements of both Then and Now.

Retta does a very good job of talking about how cottagecore is at odds with capitalism, and even third wave feminism. Hard things to accept about a comforting fantasy, but also things that I think I've subconsciously been very aware of from the start. I've been fantasizing about vanlife for at least 2 years now (definitely since 2018 when I was on spring break with some friends and we dreamt up vivid fantasies of getting a van and driving around southeast Asia). Even then, the entire fantasy revolved around digital nomad-ing. An admission that we still had to be productive and somewhat-linked to the rest of society while living out the most far-fetched fantasy that we, as young college STEM students, could dream up.

Nowadays, I keep my finger tightly on the pulse of digital nomad culture, following the news on everything @levelsio does and which countries are offering visas. I guess I've admitted that being a digital nomad is the closest to cottagecore I'll ever get. Still feels like enough of a break from reality to me.

"Water Talk" by Yoko Ono

I saw this at one of Ono's shows (I think at the MoMA in 2015) and it's been stuck in my brain ever since. Also happened to find just the right moment to share it with someone recently. I love absolutely everything about this. It's human, it's now, it's so bare and beautiful. We get to occupy a little bit of space and time, and that's pretty nice.

It's also a comfort for when I feel like phase after phase of life is slipping uncontrollably through my fingers. Each day is another step further from college, more still from high school, and from all the past phases and places and people that have been in my life. I'm trying to remind myself that I just need to remember the past for what it was—pointing out the containers after the water's gone, that's all. △