Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Essential

My thesis dissertation -- the end result of a topsy turvy two years of my design school experiment, beset by uncertainty, joy, exhausting anxiety, and ultimately a stretching of the mind and spirit far beyond what I expected -- is coming to fruition. 

I have chosen to study the psychology of consumerism (a possible clue that the last two years should have been spent studying psychology rather than design, but c'est la vie). This is not a new subject, and has been studied rapaciously by marketers and advertisers for decades, to the specific and lucrative benefit of large corporations.

Unfortunately, this urge to consume, latent in our genes but awakened and nourished by corporate advertising, has grown to monstrous proportions. Evolution has designed us for scarcity and we do surprisingly poorly in times of excess. We eat and laze ourselves into disease and extra pounds. Through affluence comes independence and we distance ourselves from the nurturing comfort of communities and thoughtlessly consume in a manner that is destroying our very own habitat while doing tremendous damage to our mental health.

One culprit is a culture of work that leaves us exhausted and craving convenience and a Netflix binge on the couch (and here I point a finger right back at myself -- guilty as charged). The other is a profusion of choice, leading to what many psychologists call "decision fatigue." Left to our own devices, we often default to the choices others have made for us, the ones that are easy, socially acceptable, and give us instant gratification. 

I have been searching for a solution to these problems for the last 18 months. I have read the works of psychologists, the wisdom of the elders, and everyday Joes (and Josephines) who experimented with different ways of life. I have even experimented a little myself. 

I have come to a few conclusions, though the subject matter is so complex and immense that I'm sure it's just a small piece of the puzzle. The good news is that we can begin to heal ourselves and our planet at the same time. Work less. Play more. Consume (mostly) only the essentials for long-lasting happiness. Spend time outdoors, the kind with trees and rocks and dirt. Get exercise. Love your neighbours. Appreciate sunsets. Practice gratitude. The answers are simple.

The hard part is breaking out of the routine, refusing to accept the default status quo, and choosing the essential. 

The Little Prince said it best: "Voici mon secret. Il est tres simple: on ne voit pas bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux."

"Here is my secret. It is very simple. What is essential cannot be seen with your eyes, only with your heart."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Thanksgiving Manifesto

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  Probably one of my favourite holidays.  Great food made to be shared with the people you love most in a spirit of gratitude.

One of the things I love most about India is that you have to work a little harder during the holidays to make it special.  Food items here are not commoditised and merchandised so that they practically fall into your shopping cart, particularly not ones specific to an American holiday.

You want pumpkin for that pumpkin pie?  Forget the can of Libby's and evaporated milk.  Buy a whole pumpkin, cook it, grab some normal milk and hope for the best.  You want cranberry sauce?  No chance of the tinned stuff here either.  And also no actual cranberries.  You reduce a box of cranberry juice with some dried cranberries and hope for the best.

Our Thanksgiving meal will be healthy, heartwarming, made with love and shared with good friends (my urban family).  We will eat a lot, we will drink Manhattans, and we will most certainly speak about the things we are most thankful for in life.  I haven't spoken yet to anyone who is coming to dinner tonight.  But I highly doubt that very high on anyone's list will be something that can be bought in a store.

As an American, the most jarring transition between two calendar days for me is the one between Thanksgiving and the day following.  On one, we spend the day with people we love, learning new recipes, eating good food, enjoying the ritual of communion, unity, and gratitude that comes along with the holiday.  Of course there is gluttony, overindulgence, and the occasional political 'discussion' with a mad uncle, but the essence of the holiday is still family.  The day following, so many of us promptly forget all that cultivated thankfulness and gleefully participate in the the unabashed, unbridled consumer hysteria that is Black Friday.

As someone who has been studying our relationship to "things" and the happiness they bring us (or more accurately, the lasting happiness we think they will bring us that they do not), I feel a little more qualified than the average Joe to say this:

Step away from the credit card.  Ignore the impulse to join the heaving, angry, hoard at your local toy/clothing/home goods/electronics retailer.  You think these "things" will bring you pleasure.  It will not last.

Instead, practice your day Thanksgiving Day mantra.  "I am thankful for my family and friends.  I am thankful for good food.  I am thankful for the opportunities life throws at me and the ability to overcome challenges."  Now go enjoy your day off playing football in the backyard.  Or completing that DIY project that has been sitting unfinished for months.  Or repairing something.  Take a long walk in a forest.

Or watch this film the climbing and outdoor retailer Patagonia has released: "This short film from Patagonia follows people who have kept their gear for a really, really long time.  Its a celebration of stuff you already own, a reminder to tone down your consumerism."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

100 Objects Research: British Museum

In my last weekend living in London, I decided to visit the source of my inspiration -- the British Museum, to get a better look at the objects which inspired A History of the World in 100 Objects. There is so much to see, I couldn't possibly get through all 100, but I did manage to see quite a handful. Photos are below, along with links to descriptions. This was first time in a museum with a pure purpose--I was studying, not just glancing at old things for general edification. I wanted to get a better understanding of what objects were valued through the ages.

The highlight of my day wasn't any of the 100 objects in the history however. In my wandering a I came upon a "Hands On" pop-up, catering mostly to children, who are constantly told "don't touch." One if the curators was there describing three objects she had in the table, and letting the children hold each of them in turn.

"Hands On" pop up at the British  Museum

I narrowed in on one in particular -- what appeared to be a teardrop shaped stone was actually a hand axe, formed by human hands in the Neolithic Period (at the end of the Stone Age), used for cutting down bushes and small trees, just at the dawn of agricultural. It is approximately 6,500 years old.

Handaxe from the modern day Lake District in the UK, 4500BCE

I patiently waited my turn, in line with children 10 and under, and held a piece of history, an object no doubt cherished and well-used, possibly even handed down through generations. Certainly on that particular Neolithic man (or woman's) list of most valued objects.

History in the palm of my hand

Also seen at the British Museum:

The Rosetta Stone

Head of the Horse of Selene from the Parthenon

Hoa Hakananai'a Easter Island statue

Aztec double headed serpent

Statue of Tara

The David Vases

The Standard of Ur

The Lewis Chessmen

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Angry Banana Hits the Media!

The Angry Banana design collective is a group created during the last term to work on a "live" project with LG.  Yesterday, we got our first media publication!

Stone Conceptual Kitchen Appliances by Angry Banana

Our project uses induction technology to operate kitchen appliances in a new and interesting way.  Because of the unique properties of induction heating paired with an innovative design, these appliances, even the saucepan, can be taken straight from the stove to the table without creating melt or burn marks.

The lack of any electrical components also means that these appliances, made from porcelain, birch, and stainless steel, can be cleaned under running water and are even dishwasher safe.  Because of their unique design, we hope they will last a generation, rather than the usual 5-7 year lifespan of most kitchen appliances.

The product line on the induction stovetop



Grill pan + adapter

Induction stove interface

The Stone product line

For the first five weeks we worked on researching kitchen practices and forming our own program for the project focusing on the user's own innovation, creativity, and changing kitchen practices.  Our research was compiled in a video:

Angry Banana collective includes: Jack Holloway (Product Design), Donato Santoro (Product Design), Vina Kosasih (Communication Design), Jo Chang (Communication Design), Yelena Bushueva (Communication Design), Sara Lynn Pesek (Environmental Design).

Monday, March 25, 2013

100 Objects

I've been drifting through the design field for the better part of six months now, trying hard to learn new skills and find an area where I can get traction. I've worked with the concepts of micro homes, sustainability tool kits, and rainwater harvesting for low-income areas of Mumbai, but hadn't really hit on anything that resonated until this term.

Consumption. Consumerism. Waste. These are the challenges that our generation faces. You want to tackle energy? The first step is reduction, efficiency. You want to tackle all that waste floating in the ocean? The first step is to reduce what we throw away. You want to tackle financial systems built on over-leverage and excessive debt? The first step is cutting back on things we don't really need.

In this spirit, I have constructed my Design Research project this term called 100 Objects: Tracing Materiality and Motivations through a Person's Possessions. Finally! A post that does justice to the title of this blog.

I have asked several people to list the 100 objects that are most important to them. The results have been fascinating.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Art and Democracy

On bad days, I feel like an alien invader struggling to understand local language and customs, whose ideas (meant for good) are met with biting criticism and contempt.

Luckily, today is not a bad day.  As I struggled through a piece by Chantal Mouffe called Art and Democracy: Art as an Agonistic Intervention in Public Space, I found myself rapidly developing a series of tabs in my browser window that made clear what a novice design researcher I am:   "hegemony," "dissensus," "Krzysztof Wodiczko" and wondered over phrases like "sedimented social practices," I also started to grasp something of what the author was saying and better, started to take joy in the not knowing, let my know-it-all facade fall, because that is where real learning begins.