To Create Anew or Propagate the Old?

Humans beings instinctively avoid danger. It is an evolutionary safe-guard nature has perfected over many million years. The careless dozing ape would become meal to the predator waiting on the ground. The ape-man who did not hunt, or forage, for food would die of hunger. But every species has not come this far without taking a few risks along the way.

There are the few who venture a little further. This is not a uniquely human trait, rather it is something hard-wired within the evolutionary impulse. The ape that ate an unfamiliar fruit or berry, had a fair chance it would die. The ape-man who ventured near a forest fire for the warmth, dared to steal a ember in spite of the dangers involved.

Or as Satprem often says, and I paraphrase, “the first fish to peek out of water suffocated at the alien environment and the first amphibian to venture onto land would have suffered the hell of terra firma

But make no mistake, without these little reaching outs there would be no man or technology or social media or anything else. Evolution pays for its progress with the daring of a few experimenters.

So the question is, are we the early experimenters of our niches in evolution? Or are we merely the propagators of the old and the has been?

Of course, we could choose a narrower perspective for answering this question. Perhaps we consider society and our role in it. Or even just the work that we do and its impact. The spirit of the problem remains, even if we changed the context in which we ask it. What do you think?

You Are Not A Genius..

Socrates

Socrates

..not at everything anyway.

But guess what, it really does not matter. Average, even below average, skills will do. What matters is if your immediate circle is smarter than you, especially in the areas that you are weak.

Stop whatever you are doing now and think how many people above, around and below you will call a spade a spade, call bullshit when it seems to be so. If that sounds abstract, here are some specific attributes that you could look for.

Objective

Does the person present facts to support their views? Is there a reasonable correlation between views held and the facts presented? Are the facts true? Or at least does it feel intuitively right to you? It takes time to assess if someone is objective or not. But trust me, its worth your time to judge everyone carefully. Of course not everyone remains objective 100% of time, circumstances make it difficult. But it is sufficient to know overall trend, there would be some benchmark to judge what is happening in a given context.

Confident

Objectivity will not be present unless the person around you is confident in their ideas, opinions and especially in themselves. The most useless or obvious feedback from someone is a good sign, you have something at least. Of course, based on their motivations, the feedback might be beneficial or irrelevant, but it is a sign nevertheless that the person is willing to deliver some message to you. From there, you will have to dig in, gain increasing trust to see if the feedback is genuine, not a repetition of what you already know, not being delivered to curry short-term favor with you and so on.

Humble

Humility is that which accepts its shortcoming. Allows better and other possibilities. Nodding to every suggestion or thought is not humility, it is slavery. Humility knows its limits, knows it has not all the answers. It is not contradictory to confidence. At the same time it should not be a politically correct acceptance of another view. The world is crafty enough to pretend when required, so do not fall for immediate praise or blame..always think through the context in which the opinion is coming from. Shades of grey permeate everything, learn to recognize it better.

Does this line of thought make sense? Do you agree or disagree? And yes, do share tweet and share this widely. I would love your help in understanding what you and your friends think.

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Go Forth – Levi’s Campaign

Poetry, even when employed to peddle souped up nothing, still carries with it the majesty of the spheres it issues from. Like a flame in the cup of your hand, a thing so fragile, yet so rife with possibilities.

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When Curiosity Dies..

..we have learnt to arrange events for ourselves in comfortable cause and effect buckets. When all is explained with the lens of our subjective interpretations, there is little else we allow to enter our purview.

..with it goes the joy of discovery and the enthusiasm for meaningful labor. What remains is a machine, that goes through the charade but is present no longer, a mere automata that lives and breathes and whose gears engage no more.

..we perceive ourselves wiser than everything around. And a cynic is born scoffing at the labors of men.

..categorical truths are born that anoint a single future out of the many that are possible.

On Serendipity

Serendipity is merely causality that cannot yet be explained with the aid of reason.

The mechanics of existence are not explained merely by the methods of material manifestation.

The Right Choice

It is difficult, this thing called life. Subtle aspiration and crude ambition confuse and confound. Choices abound. Better this, better that. What can be acquired, what can be got. There is no end to the possibilities. Oh the temptation of it all.

But behind it all, the barely whispered option of the the right choice. The right action to do. How difficult it is!

To ignore the short term. To put oneself in the eye of the storm. To step into the abyss.

Because it is the right thing to do. The thing that would aid your fellow men. To build and to make. To craft something beautiful out of all that is crude and mundane. To attempt. To push the boundaries within. To quell that which says enough. To silence that which asks for more.

The labyrinth of life has but a simple key. To act selflessly. To look beyond pragmatism. How simple, yet how elusive this magic.

The unseen act of generosity. To craft the sublime in anonymity. To perform acts of heroism with no audience.

Unerring are the laws of Karma. Actions seen and unseen, conscious or deliberate, each is weighed, assessed and rewarded.

These obstinately obscure guidelines they choose to call Dharma. 

Aphorisms on Graphic Design–Frank Chimero

John Maeda linked to a post by Frank Chimero via this tweet. The title of the post by Frank is rather innocuous, “What advise would you give to a graphic design student”. But I highly recommend you don’t take it at face value and head over right away and read it.

Some sample quotes, if you are not convinced as yet, or if you do not know Frank.

Most decisions are gray, and everything lives on a spectrum of correctness and suitability.

If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful.

Think of every project as an opportunity to learn, but also an opportunity to teach.

There is tons more where the above sample came from.

What struck me was this. The points in there were not based on some theoretical framework – with a formal definition for what graphic design is, a set of axioms, a set of theorems built on the axioms and so on. This was like plugging into the mind and heart of a designer who has lived and breathed his craft. What issued from there were not formulae but more aphorisms that have to be encountered, entered into and become one with by the journeyman who wishes to tread the path.

I have already read it a handful of times, and recommend you do so too.

Designing for the End

Often times we value an object based on its durability. Of course aesthetics, utility and usability do play a big role, but even when all these are present, we value an object’s ability to endure contact with and usage by us. In that context I came across this post by Berg about Nike Mayfly shoes, that has planned its own obsolescence with elegance.

What follows is my own musings about the perishability of things, the design of perishable things, our own mortality and god knows what else. You would not miss much if you just read the post about the Mayfly shoes, but my gratitude would be alone without your company of course.

Perishability of Things

Not all things we touch and consume is durable. Much of what we consume for bodily sustenance is perishable.

Expiration

Take any food packaging and you can find its ‘use by’ date firmly stated. Here the utility of this commodity degrades over a period of time.

There is little we can control here, apart from making the package better and control the climatic conditions that would maximize the lifetime of the commodity.

Compartmented Perishability

On the continuum between perishable and near eternal, the next notch would be those of things that can be reused by replacing the perishable component of a product. Think of any common pen or ball point pen. With the ink as a consumable resource, the thing to do after the ink is over is to refill the ink, or change the refill.

As an aside it is interesting to see how the verb re-fill has started playing the role of a noun.

What am thinking about here is how our design choices are influenced by the perishability of things, how we manage to compartmentalize the perishable stuff, maximize the reuse potential and perhaps reduce the cost of the products we create.

Designed Perishability

But what the Mayfly product by Nike emphasizes is a curious take on planned obsolescence, something that wears its supposed weakness(utility for a limited duration only) with pride.

Nike Mayfly

It inverts our subconscious preference for durability and makes one celebrate its arrival and departure in a methodical fashion. It is almost as if this thing was alive, a thing conscious and demanding to be treated accordingly. Perhaps to be named, entered into a relationship with and even mark milestones towards the inevitable end.

I can almost imagine the product designers conceiving this not as a product but a statement about their worldview. And in doing so make this a work of art and not merely a product to serve a mundane function. It takes a courageous organization to put its name on something so ephemeral, more than most consumer products.

Perishability in Digital Media?

So that brings this question in my mind, does digital media perish? Well, by definition digital media is forever since its just a bunch of bytes that don’t degrade with time. Here it is a question of findability, having access to the media in question and its utility to the individual that determines the value of it.

So stuff like movies, songs and all other forms of entertainment are arguably forever, as long as the three factors(findability, access and utility) are taken care of. If only the business models that surround them accounted for this factor and not created an artificial scarcity am guessing they would do much better than they do now.

Relevance to Software Products

Again, a software product does not perish so perishability is an alien concept here. But do note that evolving expectations from users make what was once useful to be less so over a period of time, and in that sense they are indeed degrade over time. Hence the drive on the part of software vendors to continually release newer versions that cater to these evolving expectations. And in doing so come out with abominations like Adobe Acrobat v.zillion and Microsoft Office v.zillion+1, which have drastically lower utility in an online world.

If only software vendors, and consumers, were willing to consider planned obsolescence more frequently, it would create more opportunities for newer possibilities to emerge frequently.

This leads me to wonder how we humans deal with our own perishability.

Immortality by Proxy

As a species that is aware of its own mortality we assign great value to things that outlast us, perhaps as a means to attain immortality by proxy. And that impulse to live forever, they say, powers our culture, relationships, art, literature and science. In contributing to these fields and engaging in these activities, we leave something of us behind for all time.

Take for example the poem Ozymandias:

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

Sculptures that outlast the men and hearts that crafted story out of inert stone.

We are not designed for eternity, at least not the corporeal part of us. Instead we seem to have been equipped with this unique gift to ruminate on this abstract concept of aesthetics while rummaging through the debris of life and fashion out of numberless moments something that we can be remembered by.

Looks like I have wandered off quite a bit here. Anyway, read the article on Nike Mayfly. Drop a comment if this has made you pause and think even if for a moment. And thanks if you have come this far!

A Vision is a Lonely Place

A vision is a curse. The thing not seen sits just behind the screen, coursing through your veins as a fire. Burning down reason and pragmatism in its urgency to be born, to become a material reality.

It is a madness, that excludes the mundane from its consideration. You wish to speak out – to cast in words what is clothed in the mists of possibilities, but no words consent to carry the fire. And you are left holding it in hollow of your breast. Will it burn down the form that bears it, or will the clay of mortality be transmuted by the fire?

Cassandra, The Archetype

Ajax_and_Cassandra

 

Perhaps the best archetype of a visionary comes from Greek mythology as Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy. She is given a boon by Apollo to see the future but, perhaps due to the vagaries of godly nature, also curses her that none would believe her words. The delicious irony of it all, to see and yet not have anyone believe! The helplessness of being unable to guide her kin away from their destined doom.

Of course this is an archetype, an idealized personification of the visionary type. Reality is far away, and diluted many times over, from this essence. But however miniscule the vision, it comes with a proportionate sting.

 

 

The Problem of Reality

The above thoughts will make perfect sense for those who have had an intense creative urge. Not just the artistic or the literary variety but even the more pragmatic and technological variety.

If your vision is sufficiently advanced, it is almost a given that reality will refuse to entertain it, to see the concrete lurking behind the possibility.

This is indeed a hard phase for any creator or visionary. The solutions offered by books on harnessing your creativity, being effective innovators etc. are rather simplistic and offer rational solutions to a state that is beyond reason.

Reality is a complex machinery, there seems to be a method but it eludes any formulation. Those who intuit a method, do so in hindsight but never when in the eye of the storm. The management gurus and their ilk study the cadavers of the past to figure out the elixir of the future.

The Magic Word for Creators

There is no single incantation that will purge the vision into reality. No single act that can be the bridge between possibility and reality.

What is required is a sustained aspiration to hold the vision within and a multitude of numberless acts that chip away at reality. The dream can be made real if fuelled by relentless pursuit. Not the mad rush of the intoxicated, expending a fiery passion on a single lunge. But the unyielding will of a desert nomad moving towards an oasis, or perhaps the will of Yogi seeking to quell thought.

Hinduism with Spine

Swami-Vivekananda

Hinduism is often portrayed as a religion of peace and pacifists. Its legion of world shunning monks and yogis(the genuine ones anyway), reinforce this perception. Sometimes its not even a religion but an Eternal Dharma, a rule of living rightly that goes beyond the worship of its hundred thousand gods.

But all this other-worldliness, the excessive disregard of the world and the adoration of the Eternal and all its manifestations has had an unfortunate side-effect. And that is of lacking a spine, or a true measure and understanding of its own identity.

Origin of our Weakness

I would not be an expert to categorically state whether it was the many hundred years of Muslim rule, or the many hundred years of British rule, or perhaps a weakness that predated both these aggressors that allowed these aggressions to happen. But bottom line we have turned out to be a people lacking a spine.

We spout words about our ancient culture that we have no effing clue about. When our brothers from other religions convert our folks we quote the constitution that allows conversions. When more of our brothers from other religions of peace slaughter us, we quote mantras for peace and convince ourselves to let bygones be bygones. After all an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, as a leading light of the nation had said. When one of us decides to give others a taste of their own medicine we are the right wing!

Don’t get me wrong. If you know me or attempted to read and understand what I have written you will know am all for universal brotherhood and I mean it sincerely. But each culture has to stand up for itself, no one else will come to its aid. Or we will go the way of the Tibetans, the Mayans and all the other peoples that have perished under the onslaught of more ignorant cultures.

Do we understand our religion?

Each of us who profess to be Hindus will have to understand our heritage truly. Not the crap shown on TV serials, or the clueless nonsense spouted by the traditionalists, or the ones that give you certificates. Nor should we believe that spirituality is to be done at the last stage of life, it is such moronic thinking that has given rise to a nation without spine. That allows some so-called secular element within our founding members to interpret our subtle notion of universal brotherhood as a free for all, to come and do as they please. Enough is what I say.

What we need

From now, let each of us vow to understand our identity and our true heritage by going back to the original sources, the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. Not as intellectuals, not to spout verses without understanding or realizing them. But as students and aspirants to the living truth of these scriptures, the One Divine who transcends everything.

The Method

I want us to do this not as Sanyasis or renunciates, not as intellectuals far removed from reality, not as arm-chair custodians of our heritage. I want us to uphold our values in the thick of material life. To build out the wealth of our nation again and not to see Narayana in poverty alone. To create art that once again captures the myriad infinities of the soul’s beauty. To engage our brothers in strength and pride of our identity and heritage. To churn out perfection in every thing we do and take our place once more at the forefront of civilizations.

The Impediments

It is not easy, this double mode of existence. Long has been our enslavement, impoverished our spirit and our members weak. A little wealth and little success rocks the boat of our pride too much. We are as children, who go into rapture at the smallest bauble. We are not a nation of Arjunas and Ashokas anymore. Even our villains are not fit to take the world stage, we have no strength to even do evil on a grandiose scale. Our Balis and Hiranyakashipus are just myths now.

But this need not be the case anymore. And it can start with us. Today. Let us reconnect with the Self within, in our own way. A little perfection in all that we do, a little service to elevate humanity, a little strength to stand up for our identity and a lot of humility is all it takes to offer as sacrifice to the immanent Divine.

The Guide

After all, as Sri Aurobindo states, “He who seeks the Divine is sought by the Divine”. Let us offer our works, paltry though it be, and Sri Krishna shall be with us. We have endured a lot until now, it is time for us outgrow our limited self-conception.

This post is dedicated to Swami Vivekananda.