Highlights from Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong:
A sense of the sublime in our ordinary lives is usually a fleeting state, one that occurs more or less at random. On the motorway we catch sight of the sunlight breaking through rain clouds over a distant hill; on a plane we glance away from the in-flight entertainment and notice the Bernese Alps or the lights of oil tankers across the Singapore Strait. Art can mitigate randomness and chance, though, for it provides tools for generating helpful experiences on a reliable basis, so that we can have continuous access to them whenever we are able to look up from our sadness.
One of our major flaws, and causes of our unhappiness, is that we find it hard to take note of what is always around. We suffer because we lose sight of the value of what is before us and yearn, often unfairly, for the imagined attractions of elsewhere.
It lies in the power of art to honor the elusive but real value of ordinary life. It can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavor to make the best of our circumstances: a job we do not always love, the imperfections of middle age, our frustrated ambitions and our attempts to stay loyal to irritable but loved spouses. Art can do the opposite of glamorizing the unattainable; it can reawaken us to the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it.
The problem is that, as every individual task becomes easier, we demand much more of both ourselves and others. Instead of fewer difficult tasks (writing several long letters) we are left with a larger volume of small tasks (writing hundreds of e-mails). We have become plagued by a tyranny of tiny tasks, individually simple but collectively oppressive. And, when every task in life is easy, there remains just one profession left: multitasking.
…I don’t mean to insist that everything need be done the hard way, or that we somehow need to suffer like our ancestors to achieve redemption. It isn’t somehow wrong to use a microwave rather than a wood fire to reheat leftovers. But we must take seriously our biological need to be challenged, or face the danger of evolving into creatures whose lives are more productive but also less satisfying.
While struggling to define the audience and use cases for my last prototype, I had a new idea: use art and art history as a means of framing or packaging the experience. This has led to a quite a departure from the Instagram search app, though I think the underlying goal remains similar. I’ve spent the past week building a prototype for a new mobile app that I’m tentatively calling “Look”. It has three basic premises:
I built a simple prototype to share during class last night and received a lot of valuable feedback:
Of all these suggestions I’m most excited about the scavenger hunt idea (thanks, Beth!) as it incorporates some aspects of my previous work regarding random walks. I’ve also been looking at this Poetry Foundation App (via Shelly) for inspiration; I really like the way it allows the user to combine attributes of poems (“nostalgia & nature”) to auto-generate results.
The “Near Me” and “Search an Address” modes both work, and “Far Far Away” kind of does, though I’m having trouble wrangling the Instagram API to do what I want (right now the results are still limited to a few hundred miles from your current location, and the request often times out). “This Time of Year” is just a placeholder for now, because I’m not sure Instagram even allows you to search photos by date, but I’m hoping to figure something out along those lines, maybe using Twitter as a data source instead?
This thing remains fun to play with…but I don’t think it really goes further than that yet. Looking forward to tonight’s use case brainstorming session and a meeting tomorrow with my advisor to try to solidify what/who this might actually be for.
Our will-to-comfort, combined with our technological powers, creates a stark possibility. If we’re not careful, our technological evolution will take us toward not a singularity but a sofalarity. That’s a future defined not by an evolution toward superintelligence but by the absence of discomforts.
The sofalarity (pictured memorably in the film “Wall-E”) is not inevitable either. But the prospect of it makes clear that, as a species, we need mechanisms to keep humanity on track. The technology industry, which does so much to define us, has a duty to cater to our more complete selves rather than just our narrow interests. It has both the opportunity and the means to reach for something higher. And, as consumers, we should remember that our collective demands drive our destiny as a species, and define the posthuman condition.
Describe the setting in which your thesis takes place. What are the characteristics that define the setting? What impact does the setting have on the action?
My thesis takes place in two parallel settings: the digital world and the physical one. In the digital world, it exists as a counterpoint to the prevailing setting, “the stream,” in which content flows by us at an increasingly rapid pace and is becoming harder and harder to keep up with. Much like its physical incarnation, the stream is linear, roaring, fast. My thesis, on the other hand, is multidimensional, quieter, slower. It provides a space for reflection and thoughtfulness in both the digital and physical worlds, and preserves the nonlinear, unpredictable paths that otherwise would have been eroded by the stream.