"teenagers represent a fickle demographic with short attention spans — they do not want to read long Facebook timeline stories, but instead want instant sharing and gratification using specialized and visual tools."
Among these tools, tumblr. So this story gives us the thrill of imagining a constituency for whom facebook is an attention span challenge. And that is a long way from the long gossipy walks I took as a teen. But it also gives insight into the reputation machine that facebook is because of the tendency to use your ‘real name’. Teens are apparently moving to sites where they don’t use their real name as means of avoiding their parents but also their peers who bully or those who simply compete for likes. One also has to wonder about the permanence or impression of impermanence that a site like Vine or twitter communicates to its users. Will these small videos be more or less troubling ten years in the future?
The round tables at Starbucks were the result of asking the question how do we want people to feel before considering what do we want them to do.
Form follows feeling.
Of course, the whole list of what architects get that Starbucks doesn’t get was way too easy. But let’s see what she has to say, since a catchy turn of phrase deserves unpacking.
"You have not, it seems, embraced the opportunities that the Internet has given to us. Opportunities like: polling a vast number of people using online tools or modeling the likelihood that a retail space will actually get foot traffic. No one wants an empty row of shops. It makes for a sad neighborhood. You could use and develop tools that help you understand if this will happen. But you don’t."
Right, cause it’s really easy for cities to prevent the departure of retail. And certainly those forces of capital are under the architect’s control. Sure they are. Moving on.
The article is clearly just attacking a straw man. Not only do architects work for Starbucks, as pointed out by a colleague of mine, but many of us architects know that such corporations do focus group research to design spaces. But what needs to be addressed is the value of what is found by those methods. The author uses the example that people sitting alone in coffee shops prefer circular tables so they don’t feel so lonely. Well, gee, I sit alone in a coffee shop a lot and I hate round tables cause they’re hard to use laptops at. No space for your mouse with all that curve. And gee, do people who feel bad about sitting by themselves spend all that much time patronizing coffee shops and sitting down? Seems a bit absurd to me. When ‘facts’ like that are too easy, they’re simply not adequate to describe all of the ‘functions’ that a space like a Starbucks must fulfill. So yes, commercial spaces are the most closely tailored to our alleged psyche. But is it accurate, and is it good? Should the table at the Starbucks try so hard to make me ‘feel’ a certain way?
I am dipping a toe into MOOC land, and one of my first observations is how mediated the experience is. It’s all web forms and slick video. All shiny images and toggle buttons. ‘Lecture’ becomes a multi-media experience of historical footage (which is great, but has a weird claim to collapse the historical distance and substitute famous faces and stodgy furniture for abstractions to do with policy) to the extent that the lecturer does not stand in a lecture hall but in one of the spaces that he is talking ‘about’. The collapse of thinker and subject is kind of crazy. Don’t we need that distance to regard our object from? Distinct from ‘us’ the learners? Or at least, it seems we should know when we are on a field trip and when we are in our study, lecture hall, classroom, etc. Is there a parallel here to going native?
Now here is a good sentence, okay, two:
"For the brilliant dissident Evgeny Morozov, computers are like broken beach-toys on the dark, historic tides of power politics. His new book should be bound in sandpaper and used to abrade the works of other Internet pundits."
Well, except that power politics seems redundant…
After reading a quarter of the book, I think Morozov’s points are right on but he does not take the time to prove them. He declares them to be true and moves on. He may be too motivated by the large wars of ideas he is fighting with Clay Shirky etc.
"When people struggle with scarcity, their minds are intensely occupied, even taken over, by what they lack."
People who are hungry, focus on food, people who are poor, focus on expenditure of money and people who are lonely, focus on relationships.
"At restaurants and airports, people who are going through divorce are especially alert to the presence of couples and families."
Does this work with meaning, if your life is lacking in meaning, do you have a narrow focus and search for meaning? Is this what makes someone choose to devote time to research? Or, more precisely, it would explain why some minds are ‘captured’ by the search.
"Drug companies, lacking new targets, have pulled out of mental health; schizophrenia drugs are nearly unchanged from those used decades ago; and several researchers recently estimated that the average psychiatric drug helps only half the patients taking it.”
And compared to diseases with less of a psychological component, mental health is still pretty impotent:
"Look at heart disease or leukemia—the mortality and prevalence in each disease has dropped precipitously over the past three decades. Now look at mental disorders. Prevalence, severity, impairment, and mortality have hardly changed over the last 20 years. Some treatments are effective, but rarely for everyone. There is little ability to predict who will get a disorder, or when. Scientists have not found a biomarker for any of the major DSM disorders, outside a neurological disease like Huntington’s. There are no preventative treatments. None."
Shipping in October.
10 x 7 x 0.5 inches
Contributors include: John Stilgoe, Michael Walzer, Robert Longo, Diana Agrest, Florian Holzherr, Michael Maltzan, James Graham, Enrique Ramirez, Volker Welter, Robert Pietrusko, Luis Castaneda, Daniel Barber, June 14 Meyer-Grohbrugge Chermayeff, Joy Knoblauch, Dan Borelli, Ensamble Studio, Pedro Ignacio Alonso, GRNASFCK, David Karle, Patrick Haughey, Forbes Lipschitz, Fred Esenwein, Adam Michaels and Shannon Harvey.
"It takes only a few moments’ reflection to realize that many of the most potent ideas that have changed architecture are of this seemingly prosaic character."
In his book, 100 Ideas that Changed Architecture, Richard Weston counts such things as the fireplace, the corridor and the figure of the “architect” itself. Many on the list are technologies, some are techniques of representation and others are compounds of technology and idea: notably Bigness. What the list amounts to is an argument for architecture as a litmus for change in the broader field that is humanity. Fireplaces for example are translations of technological advance in society to fit with a way of living indoors. The most interesting example of the translation from outside the field to inside the field might well lie in the most abstract ideas such as axonometric projection and perspective. I can imagine an excellent Arch 101 course, or even an introduction to theory course, framed around these advances. Any single one of them would make a great grad level seminar.