Dense Discovery - 186 /  Startup brain only knows scale

How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.

– Theodore Dreiser

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Featured artist: Olga Shtonda

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 186!

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In 2016, as I was doing my quarterly tax statement, I had a realisation that I was chasing someone else’s dream. At that point I was about four years into running Offscreen and going through my accounts, it became clear that I was doing okay. Offscreen was far from a cash cow but I had achieved what I set out to do: turn this wacky idea for a print magazine into my full-time job. But still, for some reason I was constantly fretting about having to grow it further.

I think if you’ve worked in the tech world long enough, like I did, at some point your thinking adapts to startup world logic. The more you look at a project through the startup lens the more you judge its success by its ‘potential to scale’ rather than how well it already serves you. This perspective makes success a very fleeting thing. Personal milestones mean little when you’re constantly chasing the next big number.

Whenever I met readers of Offscreen in real life and they asked me how the magazine was going, I felt compelled to impress them: “Selling out every issue! Hiring more people! Can’t keep up with demand!” The reality was a lot more boring: even after four years, ever so slowly, issue by laborious issue, the magazine was juuust becoming a viable income source for one person. Of course, this was a huge achievement, especially in the print world where established titles were dying left and right. But startup brain only has one success metric: more.

I was, of course, wrong about the sort of answer that people expected of me. It wasn’t tales of growth and expansion they wanted to hear. It was almost the exact opposite: they wanted to know what it’s like for a former web designer to stumble into the weird new world of paper and ink and shipping real atoms around the world.

Growing this thing into a ‘multi-media company’ that would expand into books, events and podcasts (an idea that was suggested to me and I contemplated many times) – that was startup brain trying to hijack a project that was already a resounding success by every personal measure.

If you ask a surgeon for health advice, they will suggest surgery. If you ask startup brain for career advice, it will suggest scale. Instead of celebrating human-sized projects, startup brain only sees them as missed opportunities.

But some of my favourite things on the internet are quirky, approachable and unashamedly imperfect – all qualities that disappear with scale. Once startup 101 marketing and aesthetics have covered all the blemishes, it becomes just another faceless company in pursuit of more. – Kai

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Apps & Sites

Instructables

A community for makers

From mechanical keyboards to tulle embroidery or tasty minestrone, Instructables is a wholesome online community where people share how-tos of the things they make. “We all have secret skills. Whether it’s a special recipe for the best hot chocolate or the perfect way to drive a nail, even the simplest ideas are worth sharing. What’s your secret?”

Preply

Find language tutors

A friend of mine has moved past Duolingo-level Spanish and is keenly trying to get more real-life experience. She recently told me about Preply where she found an Ecuadorian tutor who helps her get more proficient in everyday Spanish. The internet was made for learning languages and I love the breadth of options we have today!

The Climate Game

Can you reach net zero by 2050?

This is a neat little strategy game developed by the Financial Times, based on published scientific research and bespoke modelling by the International Energy Agency. You are the ‘global minister for future generations’ and make investment and policy decisions that have to balance financial and carbon budgets.

Virtual Vacation

POV videos from around the world

A directory that pulls together the many walking, driving, hiking and other point-of-view videos scattered across the web where people explore unique places with a camera in hand. I had fun playing the City Guesser game where you’re thrown into a random urban environment and have to guess which city you’re in.


Worthy Five: Chelsea Scudder

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Five recommendations by Emergence Magazine staff writer and editor Chelsea Scudder

A piece of advice worth passing on:

My executive editor recently said to me, “Approach time from a place of abundance, not scarcity.” Our culture encourages us to feel as though time is always running out, which creates feelings of anxiety and can replace calm focus with a hum of frenzied energy. If we trust that there is enough time, perhaps we can give ourselves the chance to go deeper, be more present, and engage more authentically.

A book worth reading:

Trace by Lauret Savoy is an example of how to weave the land itself into our stories. With her background as an Earth historian, Savoy explores how human ideas about race and displacement have shaped the American landscape, and how the land, in turn, has shaped human landscapes of memory and loss.

A phrase worth knowing:

‘Frost flowers’ are delicate, ribbon-like ice that forms when water is extruded from the stem of a plant in specific freezing conditions. Knowing about local, awe-sparking, ecological wonders like this is worthwhile in and of itself, but this knowledge can also be grounding and restorative – helping reorient us to the bigger work that needs to be done.

An activity worth doing:

Needle felting: wool is an incredible material (thank you, sheep!), and felting is quiet, meditative work. Handcrafting with natural materials is a delightful way to spend an evening, relax my mind, and give my eyes a break from screens. Creating little fluffy creatures is a perk.

A concept worth understanding:

‘Survivance’, which according to scholar Gerald Vizenor, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, is a narrative of Native endurance, “an active sense of presence over absence”. As a white woman and writer, I think it is vital to reach for better understanding of narratives, histories, and ways of being from BIPOC voices that challenge mainstream narratives of erasure and colonial violence.


Books & Accessories

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The Art of Enough

Balancing need and want

Long-term readers of DD will know that I’m fascinated by the question of ‘What is enough?’, especially in the context of personal wealth and consumption. Naturally, the title of this book got my attention: “In a world full of pressure to be more, do more and consume more, this practical guidebook will help you find your own version of Enough. ... Weaving together ideas, stories and practices, the Art of Enough offers seven ways to ease away from the pull of scarcity and excess, towards flourishing with Enough; finding the balance and boundaries we all need for ourselves and for our world.”

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The Eating Instinct

Food culture, body image, guilt

The older I get, the more I realise that most of us (myself included) feel confused and anxious when it comes to food and eating. In his book, Virginia Sole-Smith dives into our complicated relationship with food and shares personal stories that highlight the strange food culture of our time. “We parse every bite we eat as good or bad, and judge our own worth accordingly. How did we learn to eat this way? Why is it so hard to feel good about food? And how can we make it better?”


Overheard on Twitter

Imagine having enough money to end world hunger and buying a website instead.

@emma__jayne14


Food for Thought

The 10 lesson I learned walking 10,000 kilometres in 2021’s pandemic year

Read

In this mammoth essay, Ben Pobjoy talks about pandemic walking – which he took to the extreme. In total, since 2015 he walked or ran more than 54,000 kilometres. In this wordy, deeply personal piece, that’s as much a reflection on the pandemic as it is on walking, he shares some of the life lessons this kind of mileage buys you. “The pandemic. The lockdowns. The restrictions. They combine to inflict boredom, monotony, isolation, and so much else on us. In and of themselves, they are all challenging. However, what I think we fear most about these things is that they’ve sonically dampened the song of the pleasurable distractions we bopped to in ‘precedented’ times. Instead, the silence, which these unprecedented times ushered in, heightens – for better or worse – our ability to hear the creaking boxes of all the scary stuff in the disorganized storage unit of our minds.”

The problem with the internet that no one is talking about

Watch

Despite the click-baity title (which is quite ironic), this short video on how human creativity got reduced to ‘content creation’ thanks to social media offers a nice breakdown of some of the issues I touched on in last week’s DD. “A lot of people are chasing branding and audience size. They are doing these things by making content and sticking them on social media platforms. A lot of them assume that when they get the audience size that they’ll be able to experiment and make the creative work that they actually want to make, but there are two big problems. First, experimentation is now a risk to their core asset and, second, they have now trained their creativity to suit an algorithm. The end result is that suddenly all creativity just looks like content.”

Does this water have legal rights?

Read

Is giving nature legal personhood an idea whose time has finally come? Borrowing from Indigineous understandings of nature, it seems more and more countries are slowly beginning to warm to the idea of giving nature the legal right ‘to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles’. “‘As a Shinnecock woman and a legal scholar, I question the moral compass of the Western world where you can grant legal personhood to a corporation but not nature,’ Leonard says. ‘If you can grant that to a corporation, why not the Great Lakes? Why not the Mississippi River? Why not the many waterways across our planet that we all depend on to survive?’”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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CGI artist Ezequiel Pini – better known as Six N. Five – experiments with light and textures in his artworks. I love the renders with suns or moons in them, some of which are available as high-res versions on his website.

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Powerful, rare images by photographer Edmund Clark: Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out “illustrates three experiences of home: at the Guantanamo naval base, home to the American community; in the camp complex where the detainees have been held; and in the homes where former detainees, never charged with any crime, find themselves trying to rebuild lives.” The caption for the top image reads: ‘Camp 4, arrow to Mecca and ring for ankle shackles’

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Joseph Wyman Brown is a Pittsburgh-based photographer and Army Veteran travelling the US and immortalising the people he meets in a process of photography from the late 1800s called wet plate collodion.

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Type foundry Grilli Type has been known not just for producing striking fonts but for the creative websites that accompany a new launch. Well, they’ve done it again: GT Planar “bends the laws of type design as it seamlessly transitions from Thin to Black, from -45° Retalic to +45° Italic. Rooted in Modernism, Dominik Huber’s latest typeface family blazes new trails forward: welcome to Swiss Futurism.”


Notable Numbers

58

In a recent poll, 58% of US Americans said the idea of a ‘metaverse’ makes them neither scared nor excited for the future. More than three times as many people are scared than excited, though – 32% versus 7%.

80

Based on 2018 data, 80 billion animals are slaughtered each year for meat. The average person in the world consumed around 43 kilograms of meat in 2014. This ranges from over 100kg in the US and Australia to only 5kg in India.

46.4

In 2021, the 100 highest paid CEOs in the US got a huge pay increase: compared to the previous year, the median value of stock awards increased by 22.7% and cash bonuses increased by a whopping 46.4%.


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The Week in a GIF

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