Green shoots and blossom are bloomin’ like crazy in my neck of the woods. It was a week before Christmas that my family and I moved into the new home. The trees were denuded and the garden was a mud bath. This month it is a welcome relief to see the garden start to come to life. As the days have got longer and warmer I stumbled on an item the previous owners had left behind. An empty beehive. This tipped me into a YouTube loop of figuring out how to start it up. Turns out you need some bee ‘lure’ to get the scout bees interested. The bee equivalent of a high rating on AirBNB apparently.
The plan is that by having a working hive, the garden will be healthier and create a regenerative habitat for the bees. It turns out that getting bees to come to my yard is pretty hard and I’ve had zero luck so far so I’m playing the long game.
Music Culture & Spotify
This New York Times on how our digitised world is beginning to shape pop music is fascinating. To think that the contours of pop songs are now shaped by the business of how we consume them today shows the power of Spotify and Apple Music to alter popular culture in general. Pop music has always been highly changeable to fashion, but the actual structure of pop songs has been the same since the 1960s. Since 2010, pop music has become less rigid and predictable. Many artists get to the hook of a song faster so the listener will hit the 30 seconds generally required for the streaming payment to register and then deliver a variety of catchy sections — rather than one repeating chorus — to keep people listening. Streaming has also incentivised writers to make pop songs shorter, in part because people can easily skip around.
Change the business of pop music and you change the culture of pop music.
How easy for the humble cargo container to create problems at scale.
It took less than 10 years for pop music to be changed. It is bonkers to think that the cargo container, spent 20 years doing nothing. And then it fizzed up as the 1980s unleashed pent-up demand for more stuff to be delivered globally, cheaper and faster.
An entire web of supporting structures - ports, shipping routes, and cargo vessels themselves have sprung up and evolved. And yet I doubt the people responsible for the cargo container could have imagined the impact of having to squeeze bigger container ships through the Suez Canal would be a problem.
If we were to have a second chance at re-imagining the global movement of goods, I do believe we would be designing lighter, local, and more distributed forms than what we have today.
Roman Krznaric’s The Good Ancestor - How to think long-term in a short-term World is a riveting read. Let me provide some background as to why this is so compelling for me.
A decent chunk of my career was spent in advertising and the restless pursuit of the new. More recently the strategic design work I’ve been involved with has been looking at a much longer time frame which is wonderfully fulfilling because of space it creates for ideas and solutions.
One chapter in Roman’s book is the idea of Cathedral Thinking - building with the long term in mind. An example is Katie Paterson’s Future Library, a 100-year-old art project in the making. Every year until 2114, a well-known writer will donate new unread work that will be held in trust as a gift for future generations. In 2114, the hundred books will be printed on paper supplied from a forest of 1,000 trees that have been specially planted for that reason.
It will be amazing to know what the world of those readers of the future will be like.
The Mushroom at the end of the world
Another book I’ve recently finished is Anna Lauwenhaupt Ting’s excellent The Mushroom at the end of the world. Ting illuminates the lucrative global economy that revolves around the matsutake mushroom.
It is impossible to pigeonhole this beautifully written book - It straddles a confident line between cultural strategy, critique of capitalism, and the fragility of inhabited landscapes. You think to yourself, how complicated can picking a mushroom be? And you end up following the narrative threads, all seemingly diverse and yet bound up in this strange matsutake world. It has made me more aware in my strategic design practice, the importance of how systems emerge through both subtle and seismic changes.
Further miscellany that I’ve run across these past few weeks worth considering:
Australian artist Andy Thomas shows what the sounds of the Amazon rainforest could look like
How did KitKat, a chocolate bar made in the north of England, become THE most coveted confectionery treat in Japan? There are some 30 varieties of KitKat in Japan, reflecting both national and local tastes - Cheese and Chocolate flavour anyone? And yet the backstory of how it became so popular in Japan is a great example of how effective cultural strategy can be.
I’m going out on a limb by predicting that London Mayor Sadiq Khan will easily win a second term as mayor in the upcoming elections. There’s a growing gap between the views of Londoners and the rest of the UK on a whole range of topics. It feels as if Britain’s constitution is starting to break apart and this podcast from The RSA asks whether new forms of power need to be designed?
I’m puzzled by this proposition to match industries with carbon off-setting initiatives. This solution seems to give businesses a green pass to keep doing what they are doing. It doesn’t address the real problem of big businesses pursuing unlimited economic growth in a world with finite resources.
Another curio, via Spoon & Tamago, is the news that Japanese researchers have created an open-source library of Japanese wood joinery that is becoming a dying craft. I love how technology, when thoughtfully applied, can be used to preserve such intricate knowledge built up over centuries. But, is the craft in the crafting and not a high precision machine replicating human craftsmanship?
The video game Common’Hood is Sims in a post-capitalist society. In the ruins of abandoned buildings, you can design and build a new community and economy from re-using, recycling, and repairing. 5 years ago a game on sustainability wouldn’t exist.
Over the past 12-months, there has been a slew of articles on how folks look to gaming in the absence of life ,in general, being disrupted by C-19. Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in the late 19th century American Mid West. It has become a replacement world where street photographers, students and zoom fatigued office workers can turn to for comfort and well-being. It also flips the lazy narrative that video games are bad for mental health.