Spring is in the air and whisper it there is a feeling of hope that things are changing for the better.
I wonder how we will look back at the great pause 2020/21? One of the niggling thoughts I have had since the start of the year is whether things will be genuinely different or will we snap back to how things were?
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima Tsunami.
In recent months I’ve been thinking about my involvement with a past project looking at the changing lifestyle habits of the Japanese after the 2011 event. A large number of under ’40s, were turning their backs on corporate life and leaving the major cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka in their droves after the Fukushima nuclear accident. This generational shift in attitude rejected the safe corporate job as well as the traditional Japanese family business. They were moving to less well-known parts of Japan to set up new kinds of businesses: Surf shops that doubled up as record shops and record shops that were also coffee shops.
Characterising this new wave of enterprises was how they did business; through cooperation and mutual benefit. Not only with one another but also with the local culture. These smaller enterprises operated like open platforms for communities and other businesses to plug into. The traditional sense of a business was being rewritten by a young generation haunted by the Tsunami’s impact.
It has got me thinking whether the global disturbance of Covid might bring new ways of designing more equitable and sustainable futures?
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.” - Carl Sagan
I think Carl was onto something in just how mind-bending the idea of a book is. I mean the form of a book hasn’t changed that much over a few hundred years. And yet we have created an entire system around them; buildings to house them, jobs in publishing, and the trading of them. Unless you’re a tree, books are, on the whole, seen as a good thing.
One of the things I’ve missed over the past year is being able to go to a bookstore. A bookstore’s greatest magic trick is convincing me to buy a book I had no idea or intention of getting. That curated experience is hard to beat and my heart sinks every time I have bought a book on Amazon this year. Maybe it’s because deep down there’s no love for the books that Amazon sells. It’s just another product to hook us all into their clunky eco-system while gently erasing independent bookstores from existence.
There is a fightback, however, with new open-source platforms for independent book stores starting to gain traction. Tom MacWrite has compiled a list of worthy alternative online destinations for buying books, that doesn’t feel like it’s trampling on the little person. A system or platform doesn’t have to be dense and extractive to create a rich and diverse playing field.
It feels like these open platforms are having their moment in the sun, adapting to the pandamic’d landscape to support independent businesses. The obvious examples are those restaurants and bars forced to shutter their premises that have led to the creation of delivery cooperatives.
Compare Berlin’s Kolyma2 with London’s Supper or Flying Circus in Paris. The diversity and richness of these platforms are what makes them amazing and to my untrained eyes better than Deliveroo or UberEat. What’s more, these cooperative platforms are built around supporting hospitality businesses within local communities. That difference is caring whether a local restaurant pulls through another lockdown, which is unlikely to be a concern for Deliveroo.
The problem with a lot of tech services and platforms shaping our world today is the unintended consequence of designing for the individual at scale. User-Centered Design has shaped the apps and software we use on a huge scale where it is now transforming the physical world around us. The unintended consequences on local communities, economies, and the environment are starting to bite. Take the mission of Uber to end car ownership, which has led to an increase in traffic and journey times in cities. Same for Airbnb, promising authentic places to stay that end up hollowing out of entire neighborhoods.
Technology has the magic dust to transform communities for the better. It’s just that it’s all too easy for monopolistic products and services to be created when designed through the lens of the individual.
We find ourselves with an opportunity to break from the 20th Century’s shadow of the importance of individual consumerism. To think and design in ways that are more considered to the environment, society, economies, and cultures around us.
Some miscellany worth considering that I’ve run across these past few weeks:
Put your noise-canceling headphones on and enjoy this dream-like listen of Paris’ famous brutalist buildings - via @Cityofsound
How do we ensure the futures we design for a more inclusive future? A really pertinent interview with Forest Young
The last time a tweet of mine blew up as much as when I got into a tete-a-tete with Will.i.am on his ridiculous smart watch. This time the technology is genuinely useful in the shape of a homemade speed camera
I’ve only just got sucked into Beau Miles channel and it’s hard not to like his meditations on life
After last month’s reference to timber skyscrapers, it would appear that they are now a thing
Fieldkit has created an open-source environmental platform for measuring air and water quality. My immediate thought is this would be fantastic to assess the impact of Low Traffic Areas that have been created across cities in the wake of the pandemic
The UK government has created a guide to future thinking and its very good