The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.

– Anthony Jay

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Featured artist: Bruno Perrier

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery
 

Welcome to Issue 222!

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In one of Tara McMullin’s recent essays, she explores how the self-help industry shapes how we understand our bodies and, as a result, how we try to control them in order to conform to societal norms. As a white, cisgender male whose body happens to align with many of those norms, I learned quite a lot from this piece. Some of the many parts I highlighted:

“While it might not be the only way we learn how to see our bodies, self-help discourse uses concepts like wellbeing, empowerment, and willpower in ways that convince us that our bodies are ours to control. It might not be explicit, but the message is there – and our brains pick it up loud and clear. Similarly, we might not realize that we’re sharing messages that insert themselves into how others perceive their own bodies – but many of us are. It’s impossible to talk about self-discipline, accountability, or efficiency without those concepts leaving their marks on our flesh.” …

“I think the easiest way to illustrate the idea of normal and beauty is to look at Sephora and how you can shop by skin type. … There’s dry. There’s oily. There’s acne prone. And there’s normal. Normal becomes a sort of ghost category as skincare companies invite us to shop according to whatever problem we associate with more. Normal … is defined by the absence of abnormalities. After all, oily, dry, and acne prone aren’t clinical categories but marketing tools. … ‘skin types’ weren’t invented by a dermatologist or expert in the skin but by a beauty brand founder, Helena Rubinstein.” …

“The built world, the workplace, the marketplace, public transit, and other systems are designed for an imagined homogenous populace. For every way in which one’s body differs from this fiction, the workload increases. Tiffany explained that, for example, a fat, disabled, dark-skinned, Black woman has to put in a lot of work just to engage with the world. Tiffany told me that she internalized how to avoid the stigma of her body and performed mental gymnastics to avoid further marginalization. She said to herself, ‘Okay, I’m already a dark-skinned woman. [So] I also can’t be fat. I need to be as skinny as possible. I need to get a little bit closer to Eurocentric standards so that I can get further ahead in life.‘”


People who fall into the ghost category of ‘normal’ largely fly under the radar of the gymnastics other folks have to perform in order to conform. But everyone is affected by the influence of the beauty and self-help industries that have all of us constantly self-monitoring and working – consciously or subconsciously – on controlling our bodies. – Kai

 

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Design Dept. →

Expert-guided learning for design leaders

Designers are often expected to have immediate impact with little support. Our workshops provide tools that help you design your career, your team, your alliances, and your own personal development. Get the support you need to become an intentional creative leader at any level.

 

Apps & Sites

GuruShots →

Daily photo challenges

I’m getting some early Flickr vibes from this website: GuruShots is a platform for sharing amateur photography and participating in technical photo challenges: “Submit your photos to daily photo challenges and receive feedback from millions of people like you who simply love taking photos.”

Elk →

Mastodon web client

Elk is not a Mastodon instance, but an elegant, open-source Mastodon web interface – in development. “It is already quite usable, but it isn't ready for wide adoption yet. We recommend you use it if you would like to help us build it. We appreciate your feedback and contributions.”

Twos →

To-do list

A couple of readers recently recommended Twos as their preferred to-do app. It comes with a lot of advanced features, such as extensive keyboard shortcuts, calendar integration and cross platform support. I like that unfinished to-dos carry over to the next day. There is also no ongoing subscription fee for premium features.

Productivity Blocker →

Do less, more

Putting an end to the temptation to work outside of work hours: “Introducing the Productivity Blocker, the first Chrome extension for blocking any website that makes you productive. Whether it’s sending an email, checking LinkedIn or brushing up on your Dutch, consider it gone, outta here, geblokkeerd (that’s “blocked” in Dutch, but try not to retain that information right now).”

 

Worthy Five: Connor Tomas O’Brien

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Five recommendations designer and ecological newsletter-er Connor Tomas O’Brien

A word worth knowing:

Woonerf, which translates conceptually from Dutch as ‘living street’, conveys the idea that streets can and should be reclaimed as common spaces. We’ve spent a century internalising the idea that roads exist solely for cars. As autonomous vehicles begin their roam, it’s worth seriously considering who roads are really built for.

A video worth watching:

During the Covid lockdowns, I was inspired by those able to redirect their attention from the global to the hyper-local. The Weedy Garden – a video series by travel photographer David Trood – epitomised this for me, in which his garden plot served as the set and subject of his astonishing visual storytelling.

A book worth reading:

I return often to Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder, a short and lyrical piece of nature writing that reminds us to look more closely at the world – and to avoid giving into our strange, grown-up tendency for ‘sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial’.

A recipe worth trying:

I love recipes that are ‘subversively vegetarian’: simple and hearty enough to slot into any omnivore’s high rotation, seamlessly knocking a meat-based dish off the weekly menu. Kathryne Taylor’s peanut soup is a perfect example, as is Hetty McKinnon’s noodles in ginger turmeric broth. (In my recipe recommendation circles, these dishes are so legendary they have been shorthanded to ‘the soup’ and ‘the noodles’ respectively.)

An activity worth doing:

Engaging in citizen science, through a portal like iNaturalist or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. So much of our understanding of the planet is shaped by regular people paying close attention to what’s around them.

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Connor Tomas O’Brien in one click.)

 

Books & Accessories

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The Genesis Machine →

Our quest to rewrite life itself

The field of synthetic biology is a hugely fascinating one. Recent developments in making mRNA vaccines are just the tip of the iceberg. Synthetic biology can help us solve a lot of problems – from curing diseases to growing food – but like so many new technologies, it presents us with a long list of ethical and moral questions. “Who should decide how to engineer living organisms? Whether engineered organisms should be planted, farmed, and released into the wild? Should there be limits to human enhancements? What cyber-biological risks are looming? Could a future biological war, using engineered organisms, cause a mass extinction event?”

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The Most Important Job in the World →

Should we become parents?

The decision to have or to not have kids is one that many of us struggle to make. (Worth noting that not everyone has the luxury of choice.) I landed on my own answer after speaking to a lot of friends and family members. This book certainly would have been helpful at the time: “How do we clearly consider creating a new life on a planet facing catastrophic climate change? How do we reassess the gender roles we have been assigned? How do we balance ascending careers with declining fertility? How do we know if we’ve found the right co-parent, or if we want to go it alone, or if we don’t want to do it at all?”

 

Overheard on Twitter

I love how a fly will get into your house through a 2mm crack in a bathroom window, but can’t find it’s way out even if you have the side of your house taken off.

@danhett

 

Food for Thought

The Body at Work: Why Self-Control is the #1 Rule of the 21st-Century Economy →

Read

Yes, another Tara McMullin piece. This longread explores how the medium of self-help acts on our bodies, and how that shapes our broader understanding of what’s good, what’s bad, and what it means to improve. “How we learn about our bodies (and others’) is inextricably embedded in the medium of self-help. While it might not be the only way we learn how to see our bodies, self-help discourse uses concepts like wellbeing, empowerment, and willpower in ways that convince us that our bodies are ours to control. It might not be explicit, but the message is there – and our brains pick it up loud and clear. Similarly, we might not realize that we’re sharing messages that insert themselves into how others perceive their own bodies – but many of us are. It’s impossible to talk about self-discipline, accountability, or efficiency without those concepts leaving their marks on our flesh.”

Your stuff is actually worse now →

Read

You’d think that with better manufacturing methods and global supply chains, the quality of stuff we buy gets better. But as this piece shows, many items in our lives are more poorly made today than just a few years ago. “Design has shifted more toward manufacturability and appearance than functionality, when it should be a balance of all three. Arguably, it’s nearly impossible for corporations to avoid participating in the trend cycle as long as consumers have an appetite for more – whether it’s a predilection for cooler clothing or whatever new incremental yet buzzy technology just came out.”

Worshipping At The Altar of Artificial Intelligence →

Read

Beauty culture critic Jessica DeFino with a great perspective on all the AI-generated portraits that people create of themselves and then share around the web: “Because the bigger the distance between our bodies and our understanding of beauty – and the bigger the cultural emphasis on being or feeling beautiful as a pathway to happiness, actualization, or embodiment – the bigger the risk to our physical, psychological, and psycho-spiritual wellbeing (and the smaller the opportunity for happiness, actualization, or embodiment). Basically, unattainable standard of beauty + cultural obsession with beauty = lower quality of life!”

 

Aesthetically Pleasing

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This is – to my knowledge – one of the first multi-residential buildings in Australia that uses CLT (cross laminated timber) panels for most of its internal structure, making it much more sustainable and energy efficient. “Timber buildings are healthier buildings. The nature of prefabrication and assembly, means the building envelope is incredibly airtight. This vastly improves thermal and acoustic performance compared with typical construction methods, which tend to have lots of gaps between structural elements. When this is combined with an effective air exchange system, a timber building can maintain a constant fresh air supply, without leaks, which is healthier for occupants.”

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Cape Town-based artist Sujay Swadi Sanan creates intricate drawings of South African wildlife. I particularly love his ‘A Place I Know’ series that shows local animals with the places they inhabit. Prints are available from his shop. (via)

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Ad agency heavy weight Wieden+Kennedy recently launched a new brand design offshoot called Not Wieden+Kennedy. The branding is as quirky as the name, with a generative, infinitely customisable identity. Creative director Adam Rix calls it “a living example of how brands work in culture these days” – “reciprocal” and “reactive”.

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Grandmaster is a mega-condensed typeface that explores the border between text and abstraction. “The extremely vertical structure, the regularity of its shapes and counter-shapes make it an almost-kinetic titling typeface, perfect for any incisive editorial layout.”

 

Notable Numbers

12.8

A new study shows that people from the Netherlands are the most physically active of 29 nations. On average, they report spending 12.8 hours a week (almost two hours per day) doing physical exercise or team sports, double the average of 6.1.

13,000

Just a year after allowing sellers from Pakistan to list their products on its platform, Amazon shut down roughly 13,000 Pakistani seller accounts that it suspected of fraud.

51

The typical US driver lost 51 hours to congestion in 2022. Chicago drivers suffered the worst congestion among US cities, wasting an average of 155 hours in commuting traffic last year.

 

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The Week in a GIF

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