170 / DD is back and so is productivity guilt

Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.

– Audre Lorde


Featured artist: Andrealocel

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to 2022 and Issue 170!

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For many people, January is the month to lay out their goals for the year. Some of my friends are staunch believers in setting and tracking daily, weekly, monthly goals, religiously updating their progress, and adjusting course if and when their framework tells them to do so.

My brain seems to work quite differently, because my previous attempts at becoming a more disciplined goal setter/tracker always ended in frustration. The idea of constantly checking and reporting to a range of tools, lists and calendars just added to my stress level. Whenever I fell behind, it made me feel lazy, or worse, inept.

My research on Jenny Odell and her book How To Do Nothing for our interview in Offscreen opened my eyes to a more nuanced interpretation of productivity. Odell calls our conventional view of productivity a ‘forward at all costs’ concept that is obsessed with producing new things just because new things need to be produced. It’s a notion intrinsically linked to how we view and value ourselves in a capitalist society where only the ‘demonstratively new’ is valued while things like maintenance, care, rest or play are considered a waste of time.

If, like me, you dislike meticulous planning and tracking because it makes you feel like a piece of software in perpetual beta, Andrea Mignolo has a more humane, inward-looking alternative. Instead of planning the year ahead, she encourages us to reflect on the year past through a mindfulness-building approach that can be ‘energising, uplifting, and fun’.

That said, it’s also OK to simply do nothing and stick with flying by the seat of your pants in organised chaos, because no matter what month of the year it is, you don’t owe anyone a productivity debt. – Kai

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Apps & Sites

Paper Website

Turn notebooks into websites

A novel idea for those who love handwriting: when you’re ready to publish your (handwritten) notes online, snap some photos of it with the Paper Website’s mobile app and withing seconds the text is ready for editing and publishing on the web. Friends of DD enjoy a 10% lifetime discount. Become a Friend to access specials like this.

Calm Calendar

Sync private events with your work calendar

Last week, my friend Pat launched this handy little tool to prevent multiples calendars from clashing and hide private commitments: “Calm Calendar synchronises your events between calendars, while excluding private details. Let your colleagues know that you’re busy without revealing why.”

Ethical Design Guide

A growing directory on all things ethical design

“Ethical Design Guide is made to share resources on how to create ethical products that don’t cause harm. More links will be added continuously, and shared through a monthly newsletter.”


White noise generator

One of the more interesting ‘ambient noise’ generators out there: this site offers a range of customisable sounds to mask specific noises such as chatty colleagues or tinnitus, but there are also sounds for aiding sleep or focus.

Worthy Five: Eli London


Five recommendations by writer, photographer and newsletterer Eli London

A question worth asking:

I am in no way a radical minimalist or an acolyte of the KonMari system, but I increasingly ask myself ‘Do I really need this?’ As I become more aware of the toll that consumerism takes on us and the environment I want to be sure that when I buy new things, I really use them and will benefit from them.

A book worth reading:

One of my favourite contemporary authors is Hanif Abdurraqib and his collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. It’s a brilliant meditation on music, race and growing up in modern America. Some of the essays are nostalgic, some are laughter inducing and some are heartbreaking.

A word worth knowing:

I think we all understand the idea of ‘greenwashing’ by now, though I don’t think all of us have recognised how pervasive the practice really is. The more ‘sustainable’ brands are perhaps the ones most guilty of it, as they trick us into buying and consuming more under the illusion of ‘doing good’.

An Instagram account worth following:

I’m constantly in awe of @Samyoukilis’ ability to turn the mundane and banal into the beautiful and remarkable. His photography focuses primarily on mobile-friendly IG stories travelling to various parts of the world. He’s done an incredible job changing his art form to fit our current consumption habits.

An activity worth doing:

Taking photos of your neighbourhood. It encourages walking around and getting to know your surroundings while actually paying attention to the many little details you otherwise wouldn’t notice.

Books & Accessories


I Didn’t Do the Thing Today

Letting go of productivity guilt

The perfect supplement to my thoughts in the intro: from Melbourne’s very own Madeleine Dore comes a brand new book advocating against our obsession with productivity. I Didn't Do the Thing Today is the inspiring call to take productivity off its pedestal – by dismantling our comparison to others, aspirational routines, and the unrealistic notions of what can be done in a day, we can finally embrace the joyful messiness and unpredictability of life.”


When We Cease to Understand the World

The moral consequences of scientific breakthroughs

This intriguing piece of literary fiction explores the minds of science’s biggest daredevils and how their discoveries shaped their lives. “A fast-paced, mind-expanding literary work about scientific discovery, ethics and the unsettled distinction between genius and madness. Using extraordinary, epoch-defining moments from the history of science, Benjamín Labatut plunges us into exhilarating territory between fact and fiction, progress and destruction, genius and madness.”

Overheard on Twitter

We need to stop relying on the compassion of individuals but instead build compassionate systems.


Food for Thought

The Official Future Is Dead! Long Live the Official Future!


In this essay from 2017, Nils Gilman puts forward a theory that society usually believes in an ‘Official Future’ – a set of shared assumptions about what will happen in the coming decade or so – and that we’re now in a phase where the Official Future has been replaced by a wide gamut of outlandish but plausible future scenarios. “For better or worse, the aura of inevitability associated with old Official Future has evaporated. In its place have emerged a bewildering array of plausibly possible futures. Today in Washington and across the country it is not uncommon to hear even ‘reasonable people’ articulate political possibilities that a couple of years ago would have been confined to science fiction novelists and the tinfoil milliners of Reddit or 4chan.”

Ten ways to confront the climate crisis without losing hope


A useful list of advice to help keep us motivated in our struggle for climate justice. “If you live on a diet of mainstream news – which focuses on celebrities and elected politicians, and reserves the term ‘powerful’ for high-profile and wealthy individuals – you will be told in a thousand ways that you have no role in the fate of the Earth, beyond your consumer choices. Movements, campaigns, organisations, alliances and networks are how ordinary people become powerful – so powerful that you can see they inspire terror in elites, governments and corporations alike, who devote themselves to trying to stifle and undermine them. But these places are also where you meet dreamers, idealists, altruists – people who believe in living by principle.”

Why do we use deception and lies?


An excellent podcast episode with two short academic talks on manipulation, honesty, and truth-telling. I found some of the points that Evan Davis (second talk) makes about ‘bullshit’ in politics particularly insightful: “One of the interesting features about that [2016] election and politics ... is that there are a lot of people who think honesty is about facts and adhering to them, but there are other people who say ... that there are different sorts of honesty. Authenticity and being true to what you believe is a form of honesty as well. When the Americans came to look at the two candidates at that election, a lot of them found Donald Trump more honest.”

Aesthetically Pleasing

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Berlin-based 3D artist Clemens Gritl imagines brutalist architecture with a dystopian touch: “The series, ‘A Future City From The Past’ is based on this mystifying vision of a radically aggressive urban dystopia – an uncompromising design in the brutalist dogma. All buildings and structures are homogenic. The differentiations of architectural styles and eras are eliminated and replaced by geometric structures, repetition and absolute materiality. Gigantic ‘Wohnmaschinen’ encompassed by endless motorway networks, making way for the ‘Super-Brutalist’ megacity.”

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In his then-and-now series British photographer Chris Porsz recreates scenes he first captured on film several decades ago. The books on the series, Reunion and Reunion 2 are available from his website.

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Jon Foreman makes ‘land art’ – beautiful, temporary sculptures and patterns using only natural materials such as rocks, sand, leaves and sticks.

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The very robust and block-like appearance of FK Screamer makes it a great choice for headlines and other display use.

Did You Know?

A word that blends parts of multiple other words is called a ‘portmanteau’.

Examples of portmanteaus are smog (a combination of the words smoke and fog), motel (motor and hotel), brunch (breakfast and lunch) or Brexit (Britain and exit). Portmanteaus are not to be confused with ‘contractions’ (words that usually appear together and are therefore combined, such as do and not becoming don’t) or ‘compounds’ (full words that are simply combined, such as starfish).


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The Week in a GIF


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Key phrases

Older messages

169 / The (abbreviated) year in review 👋

Monday, December 20, 2021

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. – Martin Luther King, Jr. Featured artist: Luis Angel Dense Discovery Dense Discovery Welcome to Issue 169! View/share online → This

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Monday, December 13, 2021

Life is made of ever so many partings welded together. – Charles Dickens Featured artist: Alanah Sarginson Dense Discovery Dense Discovery Welcome to Issue 168! View/share online → My previous intro

167 / An economy measured in well-being

Monday, December 6, 2021

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166 / Wanted: a positive internet future

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