I like people who are not sure of themselves, the perplexed, the modest, those who try to understand.

– Ettore Sottsass


Featured artist: Erica Jacobson

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 234!

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You may have come across the essay The Age of Average which has popped up in a lot of newsletters I subscribed to. The author Alex Murrell lists plenty of examples of today’s cultural homogeneity. From interior design, beauty norms and architecture to brands, cars and movies – he suggests that today everything looks the same and that much of our daily life unfolds within a narrow band of averages, concluding:

“Perhaps when times are turbulent, people seek the safety of the familiar. Perhaps it’s our obsession with quantification and optimisation. Or maybe it’s the inevitable result of inspiration becoming globalised.”

It’s an easy to agree to piece, but I’m not sure if the premise of the article holds up. Historians would probably point out that every age was characterised by cultural trends that shaped the mainstream.

Walk down any street in inner Melbourne and you’ll find identical-looking houses from the Edwardian or Victorian era. Or visit a museum and you’ll notice that specific painting styles and subjects are characteristic of a particular period. Or remind yourself of the ridiculous hairstyles of the eighties by watching pretty much any movie of that decade. Or simply google ‘book cover design 70s’ and try to convince me that the results suggest designers fifty years ago were more creative than they are today.

What Murrell describes is simply the progression of globalised industrial capitalism. Perhaps what makes this age unique is the speed by which cultural norms evolve, thanks to advances in technology. In today’s information age, trend shifts in aesthetics, celebrity, branding, language, entertainment etc. spread faster and further.

It’s not all bad, though. While mass production makes most things bland and uninspiring, for better or worse it also allowed millions, if not billions, more people to access the comforts of a middle-class life. I may have strong views on what constitutes good, sustainable residential architecture, but we’re also in a housing affordability crisis. If building more cookie-cutter apartments means more people can have a secure, affordable roof over their head, who really cares about aesthetic individualism? – Kai


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Important, Not Important →

Science for people who give a shit

Want to feel better and help unfuck the world? Get the 6x Webby-nominated weekly newsletter and podcast that’ll help you understand and take action on everything from climate to COVID, hunger to heat, to democracy and data privacy – for free.


Apps & Sites

Ellie →

Daily planner

Ellie is a great-looking to-do app with a day-to-day default view. Its handy calendar integration allows you to simply drag to-dos into the calendar panel which syncs it with your Google/Apple calendar. Friends of DD enjoy a 25% discount on the pro tier for one year. Become a Friend to access specials like this.

Spaced →

Menu bar organiser

The macOS menu bar can get quite hectic. With the Spaced app, you can group related icons by adding spaces or symbols between them.

Slab →

Knowledge base app

Less complicated than a wiki, more elegant than Google Docs, Slab creates a clean knowledge base for users, members or employees that can be collaboratively edited and integrates a range of other apps.

Album Whale →

Your favourite albums

If you love music (and album covers!), create lists of your favourite albums with this neat, ad-free web app, then share it with your friends.


Favourite Books: Luke Beesley


Ten fiction book recommendations by writer and poet Luke Beesley. His sixth book, called In the Photograph, will be published by Giramondo in July.

1 / Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Melbourne writer Au’s 2022 novel seems an apt place to begin – this slim, dense novel about a young woman’s trip to Tokyo with her mother is exquisite and deservedly winning big awards!

2 / In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

A cinematic story of the building of bridges and digging of tunnels in Toronto in the early 1900s, but also an artful and erotic novel about work and memory.

3 / The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis

Some of these small quotidian gems are a sentence or two long. Most are less than a page. They’re all compact and great!

4 / Kudos by Rachel Cusk

The last in this trilogy (with Outline and Transit) is my fave – opens with a gripping horrible in-flight conversation between the protagonist and a man who has just buried his family pet.

5 / The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

A concert pianist arrives in an unnamed European town for a big performance, but the entire novel is written precisely in the style of an anxiety dream: funny and brilliantly weird!

6 / The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

I have read this four or five times. Can’t get enough of the virtuosic prose about eating simply and riding horses and a wolf, and two brothers who painfully enter a myth.

7 / Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

I read this in its entirety on a plane from New York to Melbourne. Sad, awkward writer adrift in Barcelona – droll!

8 / Look at Me by Anita Brookner

Brookner writes chiseled prose with exact punctuation about introverts and people who take long urban walks. In this, Frances is charmed then dumped by a charismatic couple – awkwardness and melancholy.

9 / How I Became a Nun by César Aira

A six-year-old boy or perhaps girl baulks at weird inevitably-poisonous strawberry ice-cream before strange plot points drip all over the fingers and hands while reading, no doubt melting away from ice cream on book’s cover!

10 / Selected Short Stories by Virginia Woolf

Prose unwrapping itself quick and musically, gobbling up light and colour and detail.

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Luke Beesley in one click.)


Books & Accessories


Eaten →

A food history magazine

Based out of Cambridge in the US, Eaten is an independent magazine designed, edited and published by a single person, Emelyn Rude, a historian. Three volumes per year are “filled with a cornucopia of old recipes, enlightening gastronomic essays, and the fascinating and forgotten tales of the people who have grown, cooked, and enjoyed all things edible over the centuries”. Friends of DD enjoy a 10% discount. Become a Friend to access specials like this.


Elite Capture →

How the powerful took over identity politics

Reading through the abstract of this book, I learned that the term ‘identity politics’ has its roots in the radical Black feminism movement and signalled solidarity across lines of difference. “Through a substantive engagement with the global Black radical tradition and a critical understanding of racial capitalism, Táíwò identifies the process by which a radical concept can be stripped of its political substance and liberatory potential by becoming the victim of elite capture – deployed by political, social, and economic elites in the service of their own interests.”


Overheard on Twitter

The heaviest substance known to humans is the psychic weight of all the emails you haven’t responded to.



Food for Thought

How the push for efficiency changes us →


The many tech layoffs are widely covered in the media. What is hardly ever discussed is the effect of these ‘corporate austerity measures’ on the employees that remain. “Imagine a company’s operations have been dependent on, say, 1000 labor hours. Those 1000 labor hours account for all the work that goes into producing $1 million in revenue. The company decides to do a round of layoffs and improve efficiency. Executives lay off 10% of their employees. Now there are only 900 labor hours to do the work. At first, the remaining employees may work extra hours to ensure everything gets done. But they don’t want to do that forever. So they figure out ways to do it all in less time and get back to the 900 labor hours they started with.”

What has feelings? →


A fascinating investigation into what constitutes ‘sentience’. All the hype around the future of AI rarely mentions that we still lack clear, commonly agreed-upon markers that indicate whether something has feelings or not. “Why would an AI system want to convince its user of its sentience? Or, to put it more carefully, why would this contribute to its objectives? It’s tempting to think: only a system that really was sentient could have this goal. In fact, there are many objectives an AI system might have that could be well served by persuading users of its sentience, even if it were not sentient. Suppose its overall objective is to maximise user-satisfaction scores. And suppose it learns that users who believe their systems are sentient, and a source of companionship, tend to be more highly satisfied.”

How the Netherlands built a biking utopia →


The Netherlands is often (deservedly) portrayed as the exemplary model for active urban transport, but it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, its city streets were clogged up, choking on car traffic until a movement formed in the ’70s that put the bike front and centre of urban planning. There are so many inspiring lessons to be learned – a hopeful history that shows how cities can be transformed, given the right political will and social momentum.


Aesthetically Pleasing

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Designer and visual artist Chris Hytha has developed a unique photography and editing style that shows building facades in an almost illustrated way. Check out his projects on early 20th century American highrisers and the architectural variety found in rowhomes.

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Rest of World launched its first photography contest asking readers to send them images of “technology’s impact in their communities – as seen from their lenses”. The top 10 photos are really wonderful.

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I’d almost forgotten about pixel art still being a thing until the wonderful work of Malaysian artist Shin Oh reminded me how much I like the genre. Showing off traditional Malaysian food stalls and shops, her work combines 3D and pixel art methods.

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HAL Four Grotesk is an elegant yet reliable addition to the vast, undying sans-serif genre.


Notable Numbers


An analysis of ~105,000 different variations of news stories found that for a headline of average length, each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%.


Cyclists are now the single largest vehicular mode counted during peak times on city streets, according to a report to the transportation committee of the City of London. At peak times, people cycling represent 40% of road traffic in the city and 27% throughout the day.


5 of a planned total of 14 hydrogen-powered passenger trains have started running on a line in Germany, keeping more than 4,000 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year. The trains can travel 1,000km on a single tank of hydrogen.



How I grew my weird little sadboi vulnerable essay newsletter Both Are True from 56 to 2,177 people in less than a year. (I’m sorry for the clickbait title, idk what I was thinking.)

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