We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.

– Anthony de Mello


Featured artist: Fernando Molina

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 115!

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Every year around this time, my family engages in the recently formed tradition of reminding each other that we don’t do Christmas gifts. I can’t remember when exactly we agreed that adult gifting is over, but the first Christmas we did – and actually stuck to it – it felt surprisingly liberating. (My little nephew is still exempt from that rule because... society.) This doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally surprise each other with little presents, but we do it when it feels natural, not when a calendar date reminds us.

This verbal agreement between us doesn’t extend to other relatives or friends, though. My mum is still caught in this web of obligatory holiday and birthday gifting where some distant cousin gave her a particularly nice present half a century ago which is still being reciprocated to this day through an ongoing gift exchange that now mostly consists of swapping slightly different sounding brands of chocolate or body lotion carefully procured to not exceed a certain price point. (See, you don’t want to overspend because then the other person is in gift debt and will reciprocate more generously next year, risking the whole thing to spiral out of control.)

My mum sometimes calls me by my brother’s name and forgets what type of petrol to get, but I bet she could recite the exact amounts spent on every wedding gift in our family (given and received) since her own marriage. She also has a dedicated cupboard full of gifts to bring along when the invite says ‘Don’t bring anything!’

Our gifting culture is utterly bizarre. We all know it.

Like most of you, I grew up in the world of retail Christmas and so pulling out of that cult took my family several attempts. But I’m here to spread the gospel: it’s possible! We managed to get out and have now been proud Christmas non-gifters for more than a decade. The best part is: it makes receiving unexpected, small personal presents throughout the year that much more meaningful.


Dense Discovery is a weekly newsletter at the intersection of tech, design, sustainability, and culture read by over 42,000 subscribers. Do you have a product or service to promote? Sponsor an issue or book a classified.


Your Brand Story SPONSOR

Pixelswithin →

Brand storytelling for new CEOs

This free, five-day email course will help you get the right people to care about your ventures through brand storytelling. Business is easier when you connect to others with a meaningful story. Sign up by December 7th.


Apps & Sites

Vowel →

Automatic meeting minutes

With Vowel you can organise video/audio conference meetings that are automatically transcribed, in real time. You can highlight important parts of the transcription for revisiting later or attach an actionable task for another team member. Since there is a text-based archive, everything is searchable and retrievable when the meeting is over.

Privacy Not Included →

Privacy-first gadget guide

If you’re in the market for new gadgets this holiday season, use Mozilla’s shopping guide to find out where your wishlisted items sit on the ‘creepiness’ scale of privacy violations.

Plant Parenthood →

Plant companion & community

A new app to help you get better at managing your houseplants: Plant Parenthood combines helpful guides with a social network-like platform to connect with your plant-loving friends. (Aren’t houseplants the best Christmas present?!)

Templatemaker →

Paper craft template directory

Templatemaker is a growing directory of customisable dielines that help you create packaging and decoration for all sorts of purposes. A handy little resource to get creative with some low-budget, low-material gift wrap solutions for the holidays.


Worthy Five: Om Malik


Five recommendations by writer and photographer Om Malik

A video worth watching:

To tell the story of the complexity of this world, we need to find ways to tell stories in the simplest of fashions. I found this lecture on the craft of writing really insightful, even after years of being a writer.

A concept worth understanding:

Dignity of work. Most people confuse work with just a simple economic activity. In reality, it is about self-worth and pride in what one contributes to society at large. A lack of dignity of work leads to a slow erosion of self, no matter how much money/handouts one might get.

A place worth visiting:

Death Valley in California. It gives you the context of the arch of time that determines the fate of our planet. It is a good reminder of what happens when ecosystems collapse.

An Instagram account worth following:

Adrian Vila (also on Twitter) is a black and white visual storyteller who uses a monochromatic palette to speak powerfully.

A recipe worth trying:

I discovered this when visiting Porto: some lightly toasted sourdough topped with goat cheese and honey. It is the perfect late breakfast on a lazy Sunday.




Weapons of Reasons →

The world’s most pressing challenges

The thematic, eight-issue magazine Weapons of Reasons is publishing some of its highlights in a beautiful hardcover book: “Over 256 pages, this mammoth volume will update and re-publish key stories from our archive of eight issues. From there it moves into fresh territory, with new essays and articles that explore what we have identified as the common theme at the heart of the world’s most pressing problems: short-term thinking in global leadership.”


SICK Magazine →

Voices of “sick and disabled”

A new print periodical created by people with a disability and chronic illness: “SICK is committed to elevating the voices of sick and disabled people by publishing essays, features, poetry, visual art, interviews, and more. Our aim is to increase representation of sick and disabled people in publishing and the arts, and to challenge the harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability.”


Overheard on Twitter

A lot of folks acting as if 2020 has just been a string of bewildering bad luck, rather than what it truly is: a concentration of widely and reliably predicted and interconnected disasters that advanced nations of the world could have mitigated or prevented but chose not to.



Food For Thought

Is Resilience Overrated? →


Every time something bad happens politicians are quick to praise survivors for being resilient. We’re now told to learn how to build up resilience when facing the climate crisis. What if resilience is just the inevitable result of government inaction and bad civic management? “‘There’s an expectation that we’re supposed to bounce back and that’s the American way,’ she said. ‘And it takes the power structures off the hook.’ Or, as my friend Alison Fensterstock, who lives down the road, texted me: ‘You’re so resilient’ is just code for ‘You’re on your own, sorry.’”

Yanis Varoufakis on making billionaires richer →


The second DD issue in a row with a Yanis Varoufakis piece: in this short podcast he succinctly explains how the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was used by giant corporations, such as Apple, to make rich shareholders even richer and why the current economic crisis is just a continuation of the GFC. According to him, capitalism as we know it is on its last legs.

Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy →


Great interview with Obama on a wide range of topics. Regardless of his political achievements or shortcomings, he’s a very articulate, empathetic person who manages to never oversimplify nor over-intellectualise his thoughts. Worth a read. “You’re in high school and you see all the cliques and bullying and unfairness and superficiality, and you think, Once I’m grown up I won’t have to deal with that anymore. And then you get to the state legislature and you see all the nonsense and stupidity and pettiness. And then you get to Congress and then you get to the G20, and at each level you have this expectation that things are going to be more refined, more sophisticated, more thoughtful, rigorous, selfless, and it turns out it’s all still like high school. Human dynamics are surprisingly constant.”

Are the Kids Alright? →


When it comes to the impact of social media on younger generations, there are usually two sharply different positions: either ‘the kids are doomed’ or ‘the kids are alright’. In this episode of the Your Undivided Attention podcast social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers a very balanced, research-based view on this issue. A great conversation that every parent of young kids should have a listen to.


Aesthetically Pleasing

❏ ❏

The work of Barcelona-based character and animation design studio Cabeza Patata is absolutely adorable.

❏ ❏

Alex Proba is a New York-based multidisciplinary designer and artist who creates stunning environmental artwork spanning walls, ceilings, floors – and swimming pools.

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With a few basic materials like water or leaves Benoît manages to make surprisingly delightful stop-motion videos.

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Swear is an expressive new serif typeface with a great name and an even better trailer.



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The Week in a GIF


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