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Consequences of the Rise of Design

On Tynan

I was walking through the mall a couple days ago. My path took me past a bunch of stores and kiosks, including the Nike Store. I walked past it and looked at their window display. They had a really nicely photographed poster and some cool looking shoes in a bunch of different colors. The store was beautiful and looked like a fun place to be. At the same time, their shoes aren't particularly great, they aren't actually innovative, and they're made of cheap materials. There are many shoe companies that are way lower quality than Nike, but I don't know if there are any with such a disparity between their presentation and the actual product.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this isn't just nike or most of the clothes in the mall-- it's how our culture works now. Back in the day, if you wanted a pair of shoes you'd go to a cobbler. He would design a pair for you, or use one of his existing designs, pick out some nice leather, and make you a pair of shoes. His design work, his execution, and his materials could all be leveraged about equally, so I'd guess that you'd tend to have either poorly designed shoes that are poorly executed and made of poor materials, or well designed shoes that were well executed and used good materials.

These days, things have changed. Design can be leveraged almost infinitely, which has changed the whole equation. Mass manufacturing ensures decent execution, but supplying top quality materials is difficult. A cobbler who makes a hundred pairs of shoes a year can take the time to pick out the best hides to get the best leather. That doesn't scale to making thousands of shoes a day, so material quality drops. Execution has become more consistent, but the benefits of cutting corners is magnified. Saving a penny on making a pair of shoes didn't matter to the cobblers, but it matters to Nike.

So these days, most of what people buy is well designed, decently and consistently executed, and uses relatively poor quality materials. In the mall I walked past a kiosk of phone cases. There were some that were blinged out. Pretty good design in that they fit perfectly on the phone the're meant for, the rows of fake diamonds are all uniform, etc.. Each one looks the same and is okay quality. But the materials are crap-- cheap plastic painted to look like metal covered in lackluster plastic "gems".

Deep Rest versus Spacing Out

On The Groke's Zen Habits

What is more effective for rejuvenation? Is it a couple of hours reading comic books? Is it a long talk with a loved one? Perhaps it's simply a nap. I suppose everyone is different - but for me, there's a clear divide emerging between deeply restful activities and "spacing out" (running away from things I'm afraid to think about or feel). The activity can be exactly the same - it's the reason for and attitude about it that matters.

The past couple of weeks have continued to erode my self-justification about habitual spacing out. The ten minutes of scheduled focus each day - which I have done every day - are only a small part of that, or perhaps the catalyst. By spending a little time each day simply not running away, I'm starting to give myself permission to face those deeply rooted habits where I react to fear by running to empty comforts (I love Jen Louden's description of these "shadow comforts").

This doesn't mean I succeeded in changing the bad habits - oh, no. Even with final deadlines looming and obligations multiplying like rabbits, I still managed to spend a few hours this week zoning out completely. But it helped me to shed the illusion of false comforts, even just a little - and I'm seeing a slow and steady growth of positive actions and attitudes in my real life, the one outside of comic books and novels. Reading for pleasure is one thing - reading for distraction or to replace my messy storyline with a fantasy is completely another.

I hereby dedicate this week to true comfort. I declare that this week will be about leaning further into what truly nourishes me rather than finding ways to escape from pain. After all, don't you agree that simply being alive is a dumbfoundingly spectacular situation to find oneself in?

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