If you wear a tie on a university campus, people will think you’re in charge of something.
Yesterday, I woke up in kind of a crappy mood. I didn’t have the motivation for anything. It took everything I had to drag myself to the kitchen and boil some water for the french press. Maybe once I get coffee in my system, I thought, then I’ll be good to go. But it didn’t really help, neither did breakfast.
I was staring at the inside of my closet, considering calling in sick and taking a mental health day, when something clicked. I grabbed dress pants, shirt, tie, and leather shoes. I was looking good, and I felt better. I got compliments all throughout the day. People were confused, “Why are you wearing a tie?”, “Do you have an interview today?”, “Are you having your mid review in studio already?” They were all a bit surprised when I replied that I had no reason for it, I simply chose to dress up.
One of my professors refers to this phenomenon as “character plasticity”. We all have many “characters” that we play, which are influenced by our environment. Sitting at a desk in a classroom versus standing at a lectern is a very different situation requiring a different “character”. It’s the same thing that makes you quiet, respectful, and humble when you’re in a church. Obviously, I’m interested in architecture’s power to influence our actions, but character plasticity can also cover more simple things. For example, you act differently around different groups of friends.
The great thing about this is, you have power over your character plasticity. By changing your costume, you can become a different character, just like an actor in a play! Feeling down? Get out of those sweats and into a nice shirt and jacket. Feeling tired? Pull on your shorts and Vibram Five Fingers; I bet you’re more motivated to run now. I suspect this is why we get bored with a job or a place after a long time and start craving a “change of scenery”.
Not only that, but I’m beginning to think that it works the other way as well; you can influence the character plasticity of others. Think about it, if you had full body tattoos, people would react differently to you, even though inside you’re the same person. Speaking from experience, students on university campuses everywhere have become the sloppiest, laziest dressers; happy to stroll into class wearing the same pajamas they slept in the past two days. While I’m all for the butt-enhancing effects of yoga pants, some girls take the sweats, hoodie, and UGG boots look too far. Dudes could step up their game as well.
Call it superficial, but it’s true. Now the challenge; instead of using appearance or location, can you change how you feel from the inside? A modern day Buddha, can you influence others with your spirit alone? How can you break out of the layers of masks and characters to show your true self, always?
Until then, put on a tie.
“Sword in hand, a warrior clutches stone to breast
In sword etched he his fading memories
In stone, his tempered skill
By sword attested, by stone revealed
Their tale can now be told.”
-Final Fantasy Tactics
Do objects hold memories?
When I wrote about nostalgia, Chase Night brought up this interesting idea. On his journey toward minimalism, he has always struggled with letting go of “memories”. More specifically, there are certain items that trigger a sense memory, which is important to him.
We all have things like this. Usually it’s a handmade item, or a stronger trigger like a photo or music. Holding that item instantly transports you back in time; it’s time travel for the emotions. A lot of minimalism gurus suggest taking digital photos of sentimental items and storing them on your hard drive in order to call up the memories at a moments notice. I don’t know about you, but for me, there are some things that wouldn’t be the same unless I’m handling the actual Thing.
In our race forward to an all digital future, are we losing parts of our own mythology? By carefully selecting and curating the items we surround ourselves with, do we write a new history free of bad memories so only the good remain? Yes, sometimes there is pain, but are we robbing ourselves of a human experience? Rather, is there a way to integrate these things into your life, and get actual use out of them?
I’m not dropping the minimalist flag and becoming a hoarder, by any means. My adventures in minimalism continues to be superior to the alternative, but I can’t help but wonder about the consequences of these actions.
Tim O’Reilly recently gave a talk at the Google Zeitgeist about our emerging global brain. He expresses the need to understand the big picture and direction of new technology and adjacencies. O’Reilly says that the internet is a global brain at the level of a toddler. It is very quickly learning from the ways we interact with it. This brings to light our responsibility as caretakers of our global brain; what are we feeding it?
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before on Towards The Future, but if you know me, you know that I’m obsessed with the movie Avatar. Naturally, when I was watching O’Reilly’s speech, I couldn’t help but relate it back to Avatar.
In James Cameron’s Avatar, on their home planet of Pandora, the native Na’vi could access a biological global network supported by all living things. The Na’vi called this complex network “Eywa”, and treated ‘her’ like a deity. Since all life was directly connected to Eywa via neurological link, Eywa is something of collective consciousness. She holds all the memories and emotions of past Na’vi. Not only that but Eywa seems to somehow facilitate in the transference of souls (reincarnation?) as if they were a form of data. Most importantly, you could view Eywa as sort of global brain. Not only does Eywa store information, but she is seemingly the brain of the planet; she is interested in protecting the balance of life and can call upon the help of the native fauna.
The connections here between our Internet on Earth versus the fictional “Eywa” are obvious. Our ethernet cables are Pandora’s root systems. We may access our global brain from a computer terminal instead of a tree, but like the Na’vi we use it to store data and experiences for others to access.
A character in the movie compares Eywa to the human brain; that the connections between trees were like connections between neurons in the brain (except Eywa is several magnitudes more complex than the brain). The Internet has been compared to the brain as well. If you look at a ‘map’ of the routing connections of the Internet, it is beautiful, it appears to be organic.
We may not be at the same level of interconnectedness here on Earth as the Na’vi on Pandora, but you can’t ignore that we are dealing with something bigger than ourselves. Will our global brain one day be a self-cognizant technological deity? Maybe. Could our global brain one day hold emotions and essences of ourselves? Maybe. Could our global brain one day protect life on our planet? Probably.
It’s up to us to shape the future of the Internet. What are you teaching it?
Particle physics tells us that everything is made of 12 elementary particles of matter (as far as we know). If we count the anti-particles and force communicating particles then we have 36 (Or 38 if the graviton and Higgs Boson exist). These elementary particles interact via the four fundamental forces of nature.
12 particles. 4 forces. Everything you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste comes from these simple ingredients. Isn’t that incredible? That toast you had for breakfast, the chair you’re sitting on right now, even the air you’re breathing. The stars in the sky, the far off planets, everything that is matter is made of 12 particles.
How does that make you feel? To me, it’s all at once baffling, frightening, exciting, and comforting. To know that everything can be reduced down to such simple terms is relieving actually.
Don’t make things harder or more complicated than they need to be. Everything is simple.
I was inspired into productive rage by an article by Benjamin Spall. He tells of the pleasures of working in a stationary store, and our love/hate relationship with new school supplies. I love what Mark Robertson said in the comments,
“High stationary,” it seems, leads to lower literacy–the irony that we can buy our way to knowledge. I think an RSVP pen, a Kindle, a booklist, and a passion, is everything to teach “still water / to move.”
I think Mark nailed it; what’s missing from our school supplies lists is not something you can buy in a store. What we’re lacking is intellectual vigor. No one wants to put in the work anymore. Finding the easy way out has become more important than taking an afternoon to read a book. We are deep in the culture of the Cliff Note. Why read a book when you watch the movie -or better (worse) yet, read the two paragraph plot synopsis on Wikipedia?
One of my theory professors has a great line, “You are in charge of, and the motivator of, your education.” No one can force you to study. And beyond that, what is the worth of reading and studying if you’re not processing the information? We don’t place enough value into thinking, into taking the time to create connections between works. Even, heaven forbid, do research beyond what is required simply because you found an interesting thread to pull.
Mark says we need a pen, a Kindle, a booklist, and a passion. With reliance on a good library, you could get by with just the pen and a pad. Our society has been pushing ignorance for too long. Kids are taught early on that being smart has a negative connotation dangerously close to the social-life ending “nerdy” and “geeky”.
What the Saturday morning cartoons are missing in the unpopular nerd stereotype is that those intelligent/creative kids are the ones who shake up the world. We don’t need much more validation beyond The Social Network. Nerds are the success stories.
It’s time to make intellectualism sexy.
You can’t buy your way out, but you could read your way out.