monks on instagram

(Note: I wrote this article as my entry into the inaugural STW Nextness Prize. Good news is, I’ve been picked as one of only seven finalists. Hurrah! To win, though, I need to get as many eyeballs on this post as I possibly can. So please, if you feel so charitably inspired, have a read and then reblog, retweet or Facebook this link:

Monks on Instagram: Some Historical Thoughts on the Future

My high school history teacher always used to say that if you want to understand the future, you’ve first got to come to grips with the past.

So in pondering ‘what’s next,’ I thought I’d dust off the history books (figuratively at least) and ask a slightly different question: what’s yest?


Here are five ways in which today is a bit like yesterday.

With some thoughts (see Mrs Stone, I was listening), on how that yesterday might point to what’s still to come. Continue reading


this blog is not dead, it’s just resting

Dear Blog,

This is hard, but –

I owe you an apology.

I’ve neglected you, I know.

I haven’t fed you for too long. I’ve failed to clean out your litter tray.

There’s a pile of droppings sedimented in your hypertext and a weird meaty smell coming from your analytics.

But I want you to know –

I’m thinking of you.

And yeah, I know what it looks like. That I’ve forgotten. That I’ve opted out.

That I’ve turned my attention to more adorable things, to Twitter, lo-mo filters named ‘Walden’ and (yes, I’m sorry!) Pinterest. That I’ve unLiked you. That I’ve de-linked you.

I fear I have treated you like a tamagotchi.

But honestly –

I miss you.

Will you take me back? Can we reset?

Here is a photo of a llama,


unicorns, ideas & nextness

Thanks to the STW group’s head Curator Of Awesome, and all-round entertaining tweeter @dailydoseofjess, I got an excuse to go sploshing round the internet collecting a list of Top Ten Inspiring Things for Nextness, the STW blog.

It was an interesting exercise, because (especially working in an office where every few minutes someone loads a new bit of can’t-miss entertainment on Youtube) it increasingly feels like there’s so many interesting ideas out there, than any attempt to be exhaustive is doomed before it begins.

It all makes me think of a story book I had as a kid, entitled ‘You Can’t Keep a Unicorn.’ I can’t really remember the details, other than that it involved a terminally ill puppy and other tragically worthy young adult fiction issues, but it was about the futility of trying to hold on to things that are essentially temporary. Ideas online are a bit like unicorns, in this respect; they’re a little bit mysterious, they tend to be immaterial; they flash past for a week or so and then they’re gone. So in an effort to hold on to these moments of inspiration, here is my list of Top Ten Unicorns:

1) Every Country is the Best at Something

I love a good infographic, and this one does both the info- and the -graphic bit brilliantly. Data designer David McCandless has crunched stats from the CIA World Fact Book into a map that reveals the kind of International Number Ones that never appear in geography textbooks. My favourite so far? That the world champion of Brazil Nuts is, um, Bolivia.

Continue reading

listening at 5km per hour

I’ve been walking a lot lately. It’s bit of a worry, mostly because walking, lots, and alone, is the sort of thing I associate with tall loping homeless men, and professional dog nannies, and guys in tracksuits hanging out in parks.

As a functional adult, I should possess clearly defined goals (shops! market! cafe! bar!), and shoot for them, in straight and decisive lines.

But instead, I’ve been wandering.

And it’s the fault of my iPod.

Radiolab is a series of podcasts produced by WNYC public radio. Ranging in length from about 15minutes (2.5km) to 1 hour (5km, with perhaps a stop for a drink half way), each episode defines and then explodes your preconceptions about something you’ve probably never throught about before. Like the nature of gravity. The cultural history of zoos. Blinking. Or shopping malls.

My iTunes library tells me I’ve listened to 23 episodes in the space of about three weeks. So it’s official: my name’s Deborah and I’m a Radiolabaholic. But for me, the appeal of the series is not the content per se – rather, it’s the way it recognises how the podcast medium is both incredibly intimate and utterly contextless, belonging equally to the the commute, the kitchen, and the aimless suburban wander.

To illustrate, this is my recent playlist:

  • The Effect of Zoo Cage Design on Mountain Gorillas [3.2 km; Caulfield back streets; series of hot lunch smells, possibly goulash.]
  • The Relationship Between Blinking and Film Editing [3.9km; up Chapel Street to work; blur of bleared commuters.]
  • The Nature of Gravity and Vertigo [One a lap of Albert park; 4.5km; dodging under-8 soccer training.]

On each of these occasions, the place defines the experience as much as the audio – and Radiolab seems to recognise this. The show’s sound design is full of bleeps and glitches, full of flubbed lines and jarring segues: in the words of one of the hosts, it’s about “consciously letting people see outside the frame.” The pauses often linger a tad too long. There are silences and hiccups, spaces which invite the intrusion of sounds from your real world, your pedestrian world.

In this way, Radiolab is one of the few podcasts I know that recognises how the very medium of mobile audio lends itself to weird conjunctions.

Decades ago, the introduction of the Walkman made it possible to experience space in a different, sort of doubled way, in which

…the outside world profoundly alters its character; it is perceived like a film … The subject speaks of his feeling of being outside reality while at the same time being aware of living in this reality…

I think podcasts do something similar to the listener, opening up a double kind of listening space, in which pedestrian crossings co-exist with quantum theory, and garbage trucks collect Sanskrit verbs, and a train trip can take up the whole nineteenth century.

It feels like the kind of place where ideas are bound to happen.

And it’s utterly addictive.

I’m going for a walk.

Nice to meet you. Do you come in stonewash?

I bought a pair of jeans yesterday called Jenna.

It was sort of an impulse buy. What actually brought me into the store was my interest in Uma. She was a jacket, and she was 30% Off.

But on the way to the fitting room, I grabbed Jenna, and from that moment on, we were pretty much besties.

The other jeans I tried on just didn’t compare. You know how sometimes you meet someone and you simply don’t click? Yep, Stacey (blue denim, slightly higher butt-cut) and Helena (Japanese selvedge fabric, apparently, which also apparently doubled her price) both left me cold. We had nothing to say to each other. But Jenna, well – Jenna introduced herself to me on her swingtag, in a sassy little screen-printed blurb, and straight away I felt like I knew her:

JENNA. STRAIGHT. Hot in the city. I’m looking for an urban kinda person, with a bit of an edge. I have my finger on the pulse and have been seen with all the right people in Hollywood. I like to mix things up a bit. Just as comfortable with your friends as I am with celebs.


Was I buying a pair of jeans or an internet date?

Jenna. Kicking back in my room.

I suppose Jenna simply brought home to me the extent to which marketing is just about making friends. The truism is that we don’t perceive brands as brands. We perceive them as people. Brands are people. Products are people. Which means social media isn’t so much a medium as a mode of thought.

I left the store wondering.

Did Jenna have a Facebook page?

The naming of products, the how and why of it, is a fascinatingly complex business.  And other than IKEA (its own incredible story), and ships (a ‘superstitious tradition,’ which really says it all), fashion brands are probably the most overt in tagging things with human names, employing the magical thinking that transforms mere stuff into people. Clothes, after all, are our skin. They’re arguably “the most intimate objects we own.”

What I wish is that someone would do a study of fashion naming conventions. There’s the celerity genre (Uma, I suppose, and Helena). There’s the stock-character genre (all-American Stacey).  But what about era? Or ethnicity? In one store I browsed, in shoes alone, there’s Ciara, Lotti, Fergie, Raisa, Fernado and Buddy. Add a backing track, and it’s basically Eurovision.

Actually, I need two.

I pondered this on the way home, then got Jenna out of her bag to photograph her for this post. I sat for a moment sadly staring at her.

If only, like a real friend, she had an opinion on this stuff.

But she just sort of sprawled out, and looked hot.

Which I suppose was kind of the point.

no wonder there is no time for reading books

Well, gosh. No wonder we can’t keep still.

The late historian Tony Judt wrote an interesting article about how the development of railways – and particularly, the railway timetable – in the nineteenth century changed the way that people experienced life. “The pre-modern world was space-bound; its modern successor, time-bound…”.

I’d love to know what social media is doing to our experience of time.

Perhaps I’m overinterpreting, but seems to me that these days we’re confronted by time at every turn.

Wherever I look, there’s a kind of clock.

on missing reading

Last night I went to see the American writer Annie Proulx speak about her new memoir Bird Cloud.

The talk was excellent; the readings were beautiful and Annie Proulx in person was as curt and sharp as her flinty, bright sentences might suggest.

And yet the evening was a little bit terrifying. What terrified me was the homogenity of the audience. So many of the same type. Large, billowy women in blouses. Thatchy hair. Sensible shoes. Occasionally accessorised with a funky pair of glasses or chunky beads.

That sounds perhaps a bit noxious, and I don’t mean to be judgmental. Because the fashion isn’t really the point; more the uniformity of it. Except for one weedy Chinese man in a fake Tommy Hilfiger shirt a few seats in front of me, and me, and my friend, the torsos were uniformly female + Anglo + mature. The sameness was staggering. It was like being at a weird kind of nature reserve or special group home.

I wondered, is this what readers look like, these days?

Is this what reading looks like?

It terrified me, because I realise I don’t really read novels these days, and so perhaps I didn’t really belong at the talk anyway. I read status updates. I read essays and articles I download from or I read Mia Freeman’s blog and the lifestyle sections of Fairfax digital. Updates tossed into my inbox by Contagious or Tweets. Emails. Things that come in a long scrolly ribbon on my iPhone.

And when I open a book, I read in fragments. I read before I go to sleep, one thumb wedged under the slice of pages I want to get through; I read a few paragraphs in parks; I read chunks of text, these days, on traffic-bogged trams. None of that obsessive reading I remember from childhood; none of that compulsive book-in-one-hand-toothbrush-in-the-other full-body-immersion in another world.  Everything is snippeted and snatched and stolen. There are simply too many other things to do.

I think last night made me realise that I miss the groundedness of a world without hypertext. A linear world, one not constantly asking me to click on it and go somewhere else.

The concept of nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos (“homecoming”) + algos (“pain, grief, distress”). Literally, the ache of home. In an odd way, I think that what shook me last night was a kind of homesickness for reading. A nostalgia for the experience of reading; wholly, bodily, without regard to time or place.

Proulx spoke about that kind of physical, heavy, immersive experience of books, that experience of books as a force of weather or nature, and it sounds like Bird Cloud preoccupies itself in a number of ways with the demands and possibilities of reading. I haven’t cracked it open yet, but as the jacket tells,

[Proulx] fell in love with the land, and she knew what she wanted to build on it – a house in harmony with her work, her appetites and her character, with shelves for thousands of books and long work tables on which to heap manuscripts, research materials and maps…

I love it when things converge like this – ideas, places, books, moods. I’m going to go read my copy of Bird Cloud now.

And I’m hoping that it’ll tell me what I’m already beginning to suspect – that there is a place for reading, even today – and even and especially if you’re undeniably Gen Y, with an iPhone in your bag and not-very-sensible shoes on your feet.