Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.

– Anthony de Mello


Featured artist: Sa-Yu

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 120!

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A DD reader recently asked whether I have found a good approach for balancing ‘reading for work’ and ‘reading for enjoyment’. It’s a great question and I will share a more practical answer next week. In this intro I want to talk about my evolving relationship with books and why, for a long time, I didn’t enjoy reading.

Ever since leaving highschool, I saw reading mostly as a way to absorb useful, practical information. There had to be a strong value proposition for me to pick up a book. Especially reading fiction seemed like an exercise I had little or no time for.

This attitude is not uncommon in the tech world where many autodidacts (like myself) feel pressured to read up in order to keep up. Hashtag ‘self-growth’. Getting lost in a book wasn’t something I would experience very often because, well, most non-fiction books aren’t particularly ‘gripping’.

It took forming new habits, the right books, and some advice from others to break the association between reading and work. Once I gave myself permission, I discovered how much I enjoyed reading – not as a means to an end but simply as an activity that can be rewarding in more ways than ‘to build knowledge’.

That’s not to say that fiction has no ‘value’ for self-development. Molly Flatt’s essay in Offscreen Issue 20 (available online here) makes a perfect argument and was a big encouragement for me to pick up more fiction:

I think we can all agree that what the people creating new technology need more of right now is the ability to step into the shoes of others who don’t think, look, or live like them. I wonder what would happen if tech folk spent less time skimming trend reports and explainer journalism and more time truly trying to understand the perspectives of others. Might we finally see more diverse and nuanced products and platforms emerge? ...

That fifteenth-century glass-blowing novel I mentioned? It’s teaching me deep lessons about the perennial preoccupations of Silicon Valley: hierarchy, belief, ethics, power. The best crime novels can offer a rigorous neural workout, exercising our brains’ pattern-recognition abilities. Even romantic beach reads can provide an insightful window onto a particular generation’s aspirations and anxieties.

Over the Christmas break I also listened to Ezra Klein’s final episode of his podcast in which he shares some excellent observations from his career in media. The whole episode is worth a listen but at the 10:30 mark he included an excerpt from an interview with writer Nicholas Carr that reminded me of the above essay.

Nicholas argues that as a society we increasingly see reading as ‘mining’ a text for information instead of it being an exercise of contemplation. He calls it ‘the Silicon Valley view of the mind’ that treats brains like computers: the more effective the input and the data processing, the better and therefore more successful the output. There is a whole category of tech ‘innovation’ that wants to make reading more efficient – from the many speed-reading apps to subscription services that give you the time-saving gist of annoyingly comprehensive books.

For me, becoming a person that enjoys and makes time for books (and this is an ongoing process) required an attitude change. It meant unlearning the entrenched productivity BS and self-development FOMO so prevalent in tech circles. It meant allowing myself to read for fun. (Yes, it’s that simple.) And it meant being more open-minded and non-judgemental about genres. Whether it’s a trashy relationship novel or a mind-bending sci-fi epic – I learned to judge the merit of a book by how much I look forward to getting back to it. – Kai

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.


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Apps & Sites

Hijack Your Feed →

Replace Twitter ads

I love this idea: through a tiny macOS app, Hijack Your Feed replaces native Twitter ads with items from your to-do list in playful, colourful ways. Lots of potential for how this could be used.

Storycreator →

Online video editing

I recently helped a friend create a short promo video for Instagram and in my research came across Storycreator. It’s an easy-to-use online editor for decorating and reformatting videos with animations, graphics and text.

Escapista →

Ambient video channels

A great selection of Slow TV channels: queued videos of urban walks, train rides, hikes and still nature scenes. Let it soothe your [pick a crisis] anxiety.

Unloved →

Pre-owned tech subscriptions

What an interesting concept: as “a marketplace for pre-owned tech subscriptions”, Unloved lists yearly subscriptions for apps or other web services that people no longer use and sell at a discount.


Worthy Five: Nibras Ibnomer


Five recommendations by product designer, shower dancer and serial friend maker Nibras Ibnomer

A video worth watching:

Ten Meter Tower is a short documentary by The New York Times: “Our objective in making this film was something of a psychology experiment: We sought to capture people facing a difficult situation, to make a portrait of humans in doubt.”

A question worth asking:

“What would this look like if it were simple?”, a question borrowed from Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors. I can’t tell you the number of times this question has calmed and focused my overwhelmed, overly ambitious brain.

An activity worth doing:

Free movement: set a timer for five minutes, play a song you like and let your body move however it wants to. You can dance but it doesn’t have to be dance. Have fun!

A piece of advice worth passing on:

Vocalise and externalise your compliments. If you’re thinking nice thoughts about a person, instead of silently admiring them, make it a practice to tell them.

A podcast worth listening to:

Where Should We Begin is a vulnerable, honest exploration of relationships directly from the couch of couples therapist, Esther Perel. You might be surprised by how much of your life you see reflected.




Making Conversation →

Essentials of meaningful communication

It feels like we’ve collectively unlearned how to have good conversations with each other. Global Managing Director of design firm IDEO Fred Dust believes there is a way to design the art of conversation itself with intention and purpose, but still artful and playful. In this new book, he compiles a set of resources anyone can use to be more deliberate and purposeful in making conversations work.


BUM Edition →

Riso-printed culture magazine

BUM Edition is a new magazine from Helsinki, creatively exploring culture, architecture and design. What makes BUM unique is that it’s entirely printed using an old Risograph Duplicator. As such there are only 100 individually numbered copies per issue, with each page printed in two colours and bound by Jemini Press in Stockholm, Sweden.


Overheard on Twitter

Imagine thinking humans have a right to Twitter but not to healthcare.



Food For Thought

Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine →


In this longread Adrienne LaFrance compares the world’s largest network to the Doomsday Machine, a set of chain reactions that trigger ‘megadeath’ without human interference. “We need to adopt a broader view of what it will take to fix the brokenness of the social web. That will require challenging the logic of today’s platforms – and first and foremost challenging the very concept of megascale as a way that humans gather. If megascale is what gives Facebook its power, and what makes it dangerous, collective action against the web as it is today is necessary for change.”

This year wasn’t unprecedented. If anything, it set the precedent →


I couldn’t agree more with Australian writer, academic and media presenter Waleed Aly in his assessment of the year 2020 and the words we use to describe it. “The scariest, most demoralising thing about this most awful of years is that if you listen to those who know it best, it was eminently predictable, and is quite likely to be repeated. A far better word to describe this year would be ‘forecast’. Nothing that happened this year came out of the blue. It had all been foretold in the warnings of experts over decades. The problem is that these warnings came mostly from environmental scientists, who are the kinds of experts we are now well-practised in ignoring.”

Luxury on the Installment Plan →


Renting instead of owning is sold to us as a more affordable, more sustainable alternative to traditional consumerism. But as Gaby Del Valle writes, powered by the typical venture capital forces of the tech world, most of these rental platforms feed off an illusion of a better life and are often unsustainable as businesses. “The ‘freedom’ these companies promise isn’t the freedom to opt out of the cycle of endless consumption. What they really offer is mimicry, an aspirational pantomime of the habits of people who can afford to change their wardrobe every season or redesign their living room on a whim. But cultivating a sense of virtuousness remains intrinsic to the rental economy’s branding strategy.”

Expression is Compression →


I enjoyed this essay on the creative process of filtering and condensing input into the clearest form of output – a feature of good writing as much as good design. “The process of gathering ideas and distilling them into a smaller, more compressed form is the essence of creative excellence. ... This, though is the paradox of creativity: your work is done when it looks so simple that the consumer thinks they could’ve done it, which means they won’t appreciate how hard you worked.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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These awe-inspiring photos of ocean waves on the English coastline are part of photographer Rachael Talibart’s new book Tides And Tempests.

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I love the look of these brightly coloured domes overlooking the Persian Gulf – a community of holiday homes on the Iranian island of Hormuz.

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I just got hypnotised by motion graphics artist Dave Whyte’s Instagram page.

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Tomato Grotesk is a large modern grotesk family with simple geometric shapes and accentuated contrast that give it a strong display like personality



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The Week in a GIF


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