30 posts categorized "June 2012"

Apple Products and the Force of Personality

As fascinating and well paced as Walter Isaacson's biography of the late Steve Jobs is, Jobs's character did not "click" for me until page 486.

The context is Jobs struggling in a hospital near death with pneumonia. Isaacson writes:

"Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told him it was too ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply. . . ."

Suddenly Isaacson's thesis fell into place: Jobs was hard-wired to be the person he was; Jobs's life is admirable, because he found a way to engage with and contribute to the world that wholly leveraged his temperament.

Apple Products and the Force of Personality

Later in the book (page 543) Isaacson quotes Jobs speaking about one of his own children. "She's in the process of learning how to be who she is, but tempers it around the edges so that she can have the friends that she needs." I read into this a self-awareness, too, and a moral philosophy of life, almost as though you should assess your own personality as a resource for which the optimum use should be found.

The book may have implications for the political debates between proponents of open or closed systems. Or, at least, it debunks the idea that all players in the market arrive rationally at the views they have.

You put the book down with the conviction that Apple's strong positions on the side of integration and utility are not reasoned business calculations but rather manifestations of Jobs's own aesthetic of control. It is absolutely eye-opening to pick up and work with an iPhone, having just read Isaacson's work.

The Sacred, the Profane, the Hollywood

So MGM has spent good money in post-production to turn the fictional invaders of America from Chinese soldiers to North Korean soldiers. The project, >Red Dawn<, is a remake of a film from the 1980s. In that initial version, the invaders were Soviet.

Red dawn stillReactions I've heard to this news border on the incredulous, as though there were artistic integrity at stake, or else verisimilitude. The Chinese could muster enough bodies and energy to occupy America from sea to shining sea, but not the relatively sparse, malnourished populace of the northern half of the Korean peninsula?

Isn't this just good business. Why bypass the chance to distribute the film in China; why not, instead, write off the least viable communist theater-going market?

But if it's courage the armchair movie moguls, tweeting from their home theaters, want from Hollywood, here's my list of suggestions for more worthy sacrifices of business sense for the sake of creative tension.

1. Remake >The Ides of March<, with George Clooney reprising his role as a psychopathic governor running for President, only this time make him a Mitt Romney Republican instead of a George Clooney progressive.

2. Remake >Michael Clayton<, only this time make the corrupt company a charismatic personality-driven tech behemoth that makes shiny consumer gadgets that mesmerize and addict, instead of a faceless corporate chemical company. It's too simple and preordained that a chemical company will poison schoolchildren. Of course it will. You have to be Julie Roberts and Albert Finney (in >Erin Brokovich<) to make that premise suspenseful.

3. Remake whatever that reality show is about a contemporary ad agency, the one the cable network AMC is pushing and running after >Mad Men< airs. Only this time, have the employees watch a season or two of >Mad Men< on DVD, realize they are in the wrong decade, and hang it up to teach high school history in a suburb or brew beer in a logging town on the Olympic peninsula.

Finding Jacques Tati's Europe

A couple times this vacation, I've felt like we've stumbled into a scene from the Jacques Tati masterpiece, "Playtime."

Finding Jacques Tati's Europe

The first time was in Kassel, when H and I went up a short alley to check out a cafe we spied at the end. Midway, a crew of young people seemed to be working at cross purposes to prepare a cavernous space for some sort of popup caberet or disco to be held later that day. As we retraced our steps to the mouth of the alley, a young man determined that a fifteen foot ladder should be removed, and he swung the ladder like a gate, serendipitously admitting a middle aged couple bearing a pizza box, and letting us out the other side. As we met the sidewalk on the perpendicular street, bicyclists and a pram whizzed by in opposite directions. The movements could hardly have been better choreographed.

Finding Jacques Tati's Europe

The second was midday today in Berlin, when we transitioned from the charming, Greenwich-village like Savignyplatz to the post-war, master-planned scale of Ernst-Reuter-Platz. Here it was not the pedestrian ballet that recalled Tati, but instead a comedy of autos, trucks and buses parading in a roundabout, set within an arrangement of post-war rectangular office towers. The three pictures in this post are of Ernst-Reuter-Platz.

Finding Jacques Tati's Europe

Hotel Social Network

Here's a concept I haven't before seen reduced to practice: a "social network" in which random occupants pull down shades both to identify with an assigned room and signify they have turned in.

Hotel Social Network

I suppose they are not following the Facebook or Google policy of announcing a "true" identity, but there is a kind of systemic authenticity here. How do observers from the street comment? They don't. They are like those who follow tweets by SMS but don't post to Twitter themselves.

The hotel is in the Mitte area of Berlin.

Reconstruction

Helen tells me that when she first started regularly visiting Berlin, a few years after the wall came down, all of the buildings formerly east of the wall looked like this one: muddy colored, stucco missing, pick-marked.

This one, at the corner of Zehdenicker and Choriner Strasßen, has obviously been deliberately "preserved" in a dilapidated state, at least as to its façade.

People here move so fluidly along the avenues and alleys, through plazas and around gardens. Coming from Seattle, it is hard not to be jealous of the surfeit, the abundance, the redundancy of public transit. There is a subway system; an elevated rail system; a street trolley system; a bus system. The society seems determined to enable mobility (literally).

Writing this from another corner in the Mitte area, also pictured. More from Germany später.

Reconstruction

Reconstruction

Bummer app updates

We mobile app users are learning something about updates after a year or two at this.

Sure, updates often improve user experience. But increasingly often, updates are more about a company's ambitions, monetization or partnerships, and the user can be left wishing she could revert to the app's prior version.

An example - and I hate to pick on Evernote, because it is my most important creative tool and I am sure the company will fix this - is an update to Evernote that rendered it impossible for me to draft and save prospective blog posts in HTML. Very frustrating. (Fortunately I have another smart phone on which I have retained the older version.)

Bummer app updateI'm trying to remind myself: it can't be all about the user, not in the short term, not all the time. Check that: the best companies will find a way to pull it off, to keep growing while staying ruthlessly loyal to the user's experience. But many services will compromise optimal user delight as required to try to stay in business. And that serves users, too, if in a way we may not acknowledge when wishing we hadn't installed the bummer update.

Photo: I live in Seattle and don't need to be told where the nearest Starbucks is.

dOCUMENTA (13)

The most interesting single installation we've seen so far at dOCUMENTA (13) is a tapestry by Goshka Macuga. Set in a rotunda, you approach it viewing other exhibition-goers in the foreground, making their milling-about part of the work itself. As you move into the space yourself, you might as well be participating in a Thomas Struth museum shoot.

dOCUMENTA (13)

dOCUMENTA is nothing like Art Basel. Rather than being organized by branded cubicles, the staging here is fluid, all over the city of Kassel, and official and unofficial presentations alike feel spontaneous. (I'll have more to say on this in a later post, reflecting on how dOCUMENTA seems to require a bound, paper book catalogue, whereas a mobile app works fine for Art Basel.)

dOCUMENTA (13)

In the middle of the outdoor Friedrichsplatz, a somber, anorexic Jesus Christ impersonator somehow played passivity to draw attention. His disciples were collecting euros to pay for sins. We didn't buy any.

dOCUMENTA (13)

They say showing up is half the battle, but one artist made a splash by backing out at the last minute. To her great credit, the dOCUMENTA Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, left the absent artist's designated space vacant, save for a simple display case which exhibited the letter by which the no-show had notified her of the artist's change of heart. The only thing I didn't like about this installation was the careful notation that the letter was being displayed with the artist's permission. I feel it may have worked better to have not been reassured that way.

dOCUMENTA (13)

Related Posts with Thumbnails