When I was seventeen, I walked out of school one morning and never went back. I walked down the long, tree-lined drive and out into a completely different life. As I walked, I slowed my pace and tried to focus on the experience — remember this, remember this — but I was so tired. I had spent the previous months in a fog; confused and unable to focus. The evening before, a doctor had diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and told me I should quit school, rest, and recuperate. When I walked into the Headmistress’s office, I couldn’t comprehend that not only was I ending my academic career, I had also annihilated the future I had taken for granted. From then on, I grew up out of time — no longer advancing in lockstep with my friends and peers, but making my own way, adrift on an ocean of possibilities. I felt both isolated and completely free.
After that day, I never took another academic class or sat another exam, but I never lost my love of learning. I suspect that some of my hunger for more information, skills, and experience was a misguided attempt to prove that I still had worth; that I wasn’t a failure. I still wonder how much of my self-definition as an autodidact is a defence against people viewing me as ignorant or uneducated. I was a voracious reader from a young age, but in my late teens and early twenties the reading was performative — books to impress before books to elevate. As I aged and became less reliant on external validation, my interests (rather than my personal PR department) began to direct my learning once again. Often, the time I spent learning about niche topics or refining useless skills didn’t produce any tangible value. And yet the process made me appreciate what’s possible given enough time and energy. In turn, this insight gave me a framework I could use to learn more practical skills when required.
We live in the best time in history for DIY learners. There are resources to learn almost anything that you can imagine — the only limits are your enthusiasm, dedication, and free time. The amount of quality material available on demand - often for free - is, to all intents and purposes, infinite. Lectures from elite institutions sit side by side with homespun courses, and there’s a YouTube channel for every interest. TikTok can teach you contour your face, sharpen your knives and understand macroeconomics.
The revolution in education isn’t coming, it’s already here; it’s just unevenly distributed. Thankfully, this is changing with wider access to cheap smart-phones, advances in off-grid/renewable electricity, and better internet coverage. Today it’s possible to learn from institutions and people who were previously inaccessible due to accidents of birth or geography. To temper this techno-optimism, I should say there’s still a huge hurdle to surmount — bigger even than money — and that is time. For the canonical person living in poverty with a phone, an internet connection, and a dream, it’s true that they live in a world of possibility. But if they’re balancing two jobs and childcare, the odds of them finding the time to take that Stanford computer science class aren’t great…
The most important letter in DIY learning is the ‘D’. If you don’t do, you’ll never learn anything. Everyone knows that you have to actually do the work if you want to make progress — buying the book or signing up for the course isn’t enough. It doesn’t stop there, the next step is even more important. It’s easy to think that you’ve made progress because you’ve been learning about something, but unless your interest is purely academic, what matters is whether you’ve learnt to do something. For example, when I started to learn Italian I felt proud of myself for consistency in studying grammar and vocabulary. But when I booked my first tutor, I got a sharp reality check. I was ticking off cards in my spaced repetition app with confidence, but casual conversation with an actual Italian left me tongue-tied and bemused. I had mistaken the process of learning Italian with the ability to speak Italian. My stated goal was to connect with people using another language, and yet I spent by far the smallest amount of my learning time speaking Italian. Obviously it’s impossible to learn a language and avoid the grunt work of learning new vocabulary or more complex grammar, but if the end goal is to communicate, you need to spend more time communicating if you want to progress.
And where would I be without the people who facilitated my learning? It’s never truly DIY - the resources I use are the result of generous people putting in the time and effort to share their knowledge. Mentors, fellow travellers, and kind strangers who gave me directions on the road. Progress is impossible without the friends who challenge and educate me; let alone the family or partner who sustain me on an emotional, intellectual and practical level. I can expand my gratitude further, to the people who work in the energy, tech, food production, and service sectors who make possible the bounty of the electronic age.
The advantages and disadvantages of a DIY approach are the same: it’s self-directed and you bear the responsibility for success or failure. If you succeed, you can celebrate doing something for yourself (with the aforementioned caveats), but if you fail, that’s on you too. Ownership of failure is the biggest advantage of a DIY learning approach. You don’t need to waste time apportioning blame — it’s your fault. Skip straight to the post-mortem, identify incorrect assumptions and make a new plan based on your updated knowledge. Was the pace unsustainable, the material too far above your level, or did the teaching style not resonate? Time to redesign and restart.
There’s never been a better time to learn something new.
Oikos vs Polis on Interconnected
Oikos vs Polis, blood vs state. This article uncovers a third axis in politics (after economic and social distinctions) and uses it to illuminate current political trends. Insightful and evenhanded
The Picture That Changed my Life: An Interview with David Hurn
A great interview with David Hurn, whose book On Being a Photographer was an outsized early influence on me.
Tales of the Trash — Peter Hessler (New Yorker)
The intricacies of modern Egypt’s relationship to governance, sex, women’s rights, the West, community and trash explained through the eyes of a local zabaleen (waste collector). Brilliant from start to finish. I can’t wait to read more from Hessler. Thank you to Pierson B for the recommendation.
Y DON’T U — 박혜진 Park Hye Jin, Clams Casino, Take A Daytrip
Park takes her usual dreamlike minimal house or techno sound in a more hip hop direction with the help of Clams Casino and Take A Daytrip. Rapping and singing in Korean and English, her vocals float in and out of the warm bass soup.
If you like this, check out her brilliant EP How can I
Vapor City — Machinedrum
Dark, metallic and hypnotic bass music. Skittering beats and elusive vocals weave through a reverb-laden swamp. The opener is a stone cold banger and the whole album is crafted for rainy night bus journeys (my favourite musical genre).
Bird Ambience — Masayoshi Fujita
I’ve recommended the title single before, but the recently released album is such a masterwork that it gets a double mention. Spacious, strange and beautiful soundscapes. The tracks vary from atmospheric and dense to sparse and delicate. In the latter, the silence is as important as the noise. Incredible restraint and refinement in the production — I can’t praise it highly enough.
As always, all recommendations are added to the Art + Attention playlist
Footsteps: How Movie Sounds Are Made by Jeremy Benning
I love foley and I loved this short that looks behind the scenes at Footsteps Studios. I’ve never seen people who are more content or fulfilled by their work than the foley artists in this film—their love & dedication to their craft is palpable. I love hidden arts — it takes a special type of person to give their life to a discipline that is invisible when it is most successful.
The Foley Artist by Oliver Holms
On a foley tip, I’m going to shamelessly link to my debut film which follows a master foley artist as things begin to unravel in the heat of the moment…
Battleground by Kwesi Thomas & Mark Bone
Sensitive and beautifully shot mini-doc that came about in the wake of conversations between the pair in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. To quote from the blurb: ‘It addresses the struggle and confusion that many black people face in silence when growing up. The film is an intimate look into the subtle, often overlooked moments of racism and the ensuing vulnerabilities that linger for life and which can shape identity.’ Every frame looks like a painting, but the aesthetic sensibility doesn’t get in the way of the incredible intimacy and emotional vulnerability that is established with the protagonists.
Photographing Australia’s Black Summer by Paolo Pellegrin
Affecting black and white photographs of the devastation left in the wake of Australia’s 2020 wildfires
I had heard Deeporter talked about a lot, but I hadn’t dived into her work until recently. I shouldn’t have waited so long… Cinematic, yet intimate portraits and documentary work with a strong eye for colour. Start with Michael and I Am About to Call It a Day.
I’m really happy to announce that two of my pictures were selected for the Portrait of Humanity competition and are featured in the accompanying book, published by Hoxton Street Press. I received my copy a couple of weeks ago and it contains some brilliant work. Recommended.
“Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it….” — André Gide