Rocks to radio. Issue #103.
How did we get here?
Welcome back to Gornisht, where I spout off on the state of design, the nature of mind, and their occasional and occasioned intersections. This newsletter is a labor of love. If you like it, please consider sharing it with others. If it’s not to your liking, you might still consider sharing it with others. If you really like it, please consider becoming a paid subscriber and then bask in my eternal gratitude. Truly, that must count for something.
In the last issue, I described the two sides of the design consciousness definitional coin, which roughly correspond to personal development and a broader cultural enlightenment. Perhaps a little more elaboration is in order.
In the first case, I see design consciousness as a means of and for individual mindset growth, mostly fuelled by a designer taking on the serious (and yet often maddeningly difficult) activity of meditation and, more broadly speaking, enjoying (or better, partaking in) a larger practice of mindfulness. This is a path that can be encountered through different approaches, of course, and I’ll cover some of those in later missives.
In the second and broader case, I believe that design consciousness is a larger and universal recognition that design is not so much about creating physical and digital objects (like radios and radio buttons) or about “thinking” or devising. Instead, we come to see design as means of creating efforts and experiences that are consistently and purposefully worthy of our time and energy — and relevant to future global needs. This goes beyond “sustainable design” or “socially responsible design” because it looks past human requirements, past local ecologies, past economic priorities, past material and software engineering — and towards a universal perception of regenerative production.
Design consciousness is a becoming awareness of our capacities to compassionately and yet willfully act. And it will be the fundamental project of design.
For instance, we are quickly getting to the point where we no longer need (nor will we be able to afford) televisions with 5K resolution. The externalities of resource depletion and ecosystem degradation will be too difficult to cost into product design and production. Instead, what we might need is a screen that can adapt to technological advances and that be used and repaired for the next 50 years. Design consciousness on a social scale will take into consideration generations of individual and community needs — and will clock in the constraints on resources needed to meet those needs.
I will write more about how I came back to meditation after being away from it for a long period of time (hint: podcasting), why I meditate now (such as it is) and what my own practice looks like (warts and all). I remain (and this newsletter is) a work in progress.
Mostly, I am doing my best to maintain what is called “beginner’s mind”. Here is the great Jack Kornfield on beginner’s mind from his website:
When we are free from views, we are willing to learn. What we know for sure in this great turning universe is actually very limited. Seung Sahn, a Korean Zen master, tells us to value this “don’t know mind.” He would ask his students questions such as “What is love? What is consciousness? Where did your life come from? What is going to happen tomorrow?” Each time, the students would answer, “I don’t know.” “Good,” Seung Sahn replied. “Keep this ‘don’t know mind.’ It is an open mind, a clear mind.”
Rocks to Radio
Speaking of radios… My teenage daughter posed a question to me a few months back when she was home studying at university remotely. The question was something like this: How did we achieve a lived reality of machine-made objects (for example, phones) that communicate through invisible airwaves (for example, music)? How do we have objects that speak with one another?
Or, put another way, how did we get from rocks to radio?
On the surface, it seems truly impossible. We mine raw materials across dozens of countries. Hundreds of people then turn those rich minerals into thousands of parts through melting and smelting, refining and then aligning. Thousands of electronics workers sit at factory tables face to face and arm to arm, parsing parts into machines that are then put into other objects from yet other factories from far, far away.
The finished objects are packaged and wrapped and shipped across the globe via trucks, ships, planes, and trucks again, only to be sold in stores by assuming associates to awaiting consumers like you and me. (The supply chains are tight, as we know; a single individual in China can fundamentally disrupt global sales, creating both inflation and havoc.)
That electronic object is taken home and, with great anticipation, it is opened, plugged in, started up and tricked out. A radio button is flipped on a screen and airwaves from this magical machine connect invisibly to other magical machines both near and far. Rock becomes rock and roll radio.
Every component of this object and its experience has been designed, from process to propaganda, from box to brand, and from speaker to sticker. The machine — whether a laptop, desktop, phone, tablet or tag — manifests as a new object of meaning for the consumer. Far more than the sum of its parts, that shipshape piece of hardware fulfills a software destiny. The thing is no longer an object of adoration alone (like a vase might) but a means of communication. We love our phones not because we speak to them but because they speak to us.
I came to realize that there is also an analogous question. How did we get from people to personhood? Or more specially, how do we get from corporeality to consciousness? As animals, we are material incarnate, a billion years of rock congealed into living form. We are moving matter. But we are also, amazingly, articulate matter. Complex thoughts and feelings emerge wholesale from our bodies, only to disappear as soon as we recognize them. The hardware of our bodies and brains not only give us living form but conscious life.
Consciousness is our body’s Bluetooth, a convection of connection that is fortuitous and fiery and yet frustratingly fleeting. Somehow, somehow, our bodies are wired for sound.
Reading: I have been enjoying L.M. Sacasas’ newsletter, The Convivial Society. He writes about the history and current state of technology and the ways in which we might understand its grip upon us. In the spirit of quoting quotations, here is a one that Sacasas uses to start off his last issue, a quote from one of the two books that inspired his newsletter’s name:
“I believe that a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of consumption, on our engendering a life style which will enable us to be spontaneous, independent, yet related to each other, rather than maintaining a life style which only allows us to make and unmake, produce and consume—a style of life which is merely a way station on the road to the depletion and pollution of the environment.”
— Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality
Finding: Here is a new zine that looks fabulous in all of its ADHDedness: “20+ ADHD artists, writers and poets, speaking about what ADHD means to them”.
Thank you for reading this far. There is more on the way. Wishing you a very good week ahead.