Getting nervous but I believe in ‘N’ and this is why

Click to view animation '16N'

WELL, SURE. We could do better.

All of us. We could be better about how we talk to one another. And, of course, in how closely we listen.

Everyone would like space, for more and better quality listening and speaking. Dialogue and stuff.

Everyone could use designed space to connect, I think, in meaningful and engaging ways.

Back in 1999 when people were starting to open their hotmail accounts (mine was “dkompany”), I remember how exciting it was to be able to open a folder and see one or two little names in bold there in the interface. People who you knew! There, mostly, I saw my cousin’s name—RS. He was one of the first people I knew to pick up everything tech I knew, and he worked in the Silicon Valley for a long time, and now I think he still does but I can’t be sure about it, because you know what? We lost the thread. I used to have this stationery set that I’d use just to send letters to R, but after it ran out, so did we.

Losing the thread

Noise got in the way. Lots of it. Clutter and noise and banality and the digital spaces that we all thought were so exciting began to rub away something. Something that used to be there. No one could quite put their finger on it. But it was going, it was going back then in the days when we stopped talking to each other in real life, and then when we got cell phones that became “smart” and in the process made us dumb. We talked to pixels, we uploaded stupid things, we made this picture of who we thought we should be or how we thought we should be perceived. We overshared. We talked too much about our mothers. Regretted photos. We cried online and splashed the world with our innermost musings that, my God, you hoped no one would look at through the Way Way Back Machine.

And here we are, all this time later, pushed into a way of talking that is unbelievably anti-human.

Look familiar?
Look familiar?

We are overwhelmed with noise.

As the 80’s and 90s kids who grew up on this stuff age, they kind of exponentially’ve been adding crap to the internet that the 70s kids uploaded and their parents learned how to do, later, too, and now there are the 00s, and we have EVEN MORE of this stuff to sift and that’s why it’s okay now to not reply to email because who does email? Just the sellers—they’re the best at it and you hear from them even when you think you’re unlisted. (If I emailed you in recent days, I’d bet a bunch that it went into your spam because those other guys are winning at getting through filters and the normal people, people like us here at Design Kompany, who just wanna say, “Hey. That’s cool what you’re doing.” And it’s all, “WHY are you TALKING to me?” So to make it uncreepy, say, you have to find someone to introduce you to these people but then, they never get around to it, and if you’re used to networking you’ll do something like go on social media and ping and wait around and then ping again and maybe follow up. Circular nothingness. So we never grow, we just stay where we are with whomever happens to be around, but… we’re bored. How are you supposed to meet people? Tinder???? No, thank you!!) So different from when I was a reporter. It was all, “HERE, here. This? This is my direct line.” And they’d underline it in red and stuff like that.

And who uses the phone, now? I used to think this was our way to staying off all this stupid media channel stuff, but nope. I’m wrong. There is voice mail. And that’s the standard, now. There is no way to do what AT&T said they existed for. Reach out and touch someone. Do you remember that? Who remembers that? If you do, you’ll probably also remember that it was an amazing thing that happened when the flip cell phone came out and people started looking important and stuff. Now they have Bluetooth and Google Glasses (or did that get recalled completely?), and you look ridiculous.

Waking up to the picture of how things REALLY are

IN SHORT, I HAVE BEEN noticing the trend of how this all got really normal. This not answering stuff. This “I’m not listening” stuff. This “hey, send me an email and maybe I’ll follow up if I feel like it” stuff. I’m not saying you need to go and do all that, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I do think, though, is that it’s important to be choosy. Selective. Quality relationships and quality conversations are way, way easier to work with. This is where ideas are made, born, given light, exchanged, thrown out into the wide world, batted and bettered. I’m into that. Bettering. Not just cluttering.

That’s why modern communciations baffle me. When DK got started officially as an LLC in Seattle (2005), our newest prospective clients or even brand new friends would set up, cancel, reschedule, and cancel again all sorts of conversations that never happened. I was coming from Skibbereen, Ireland (2000-2004), so we just didn’t have that kind of thing going on there, then. At least we didn’t in those days, things are probably different now. Mabye cancelling is the new thing. Maybe not really meaning anything is just okay for a lot of people. But it’s not okay with me.

This sort of nonsense of beating around the bush (just say “no” or “yes,” please, and if you’re a “maybe,” then you can just take a number because there are so, so many people in the world and so, so many engagements and quality conversations to be had, and life is short you know? Let’s not waste our time, mutually.) So yes. I’m being honest here. All that stuff really bothered me.

I wanted to connect. I wanted to feel something, more than just write notes on digital spaces. (MA knew this about me more than anyone, miss her and our doodling draw-up conversations.) I haven’t been the best at this. I have a hard time relating to the very people I see the most and care about deeply, because we are in the gutters and shelves of the media channels and we have forgotten how to look at one another. Really look. No, I mean, really look. Eye to eye. And to listen.

I have met some amazingly dull people lately. They seem so cool online, but they are boring as dead toads. (Just walked by some old toad skin on the streets of Phnom Penh, and yeah, I can attest to the fact that they are terribly boring.) But it’s not that these people are really boring, to be fair. They’re just pretending to be something that they’re not. And that’s not easy to deal with when you show up, thinking, “What are you making now?” And they say nothing, because they’ve exhausted their digital archives of the very best of what they have, and then, when you meet them, look them in the eye, which is youthful and looking for you to say “great job!” and otherwise sad and lonely and full of stuff that makes you feel “forlorn” and wish that old good stuff of the 1990s that yes, nostalgia and other things are muddling the essence of but still, that stuff, the sparkle and the spark, that used to be there would come back, that’s when you know.

You have to do something about this.

And if you turn it into a design problem, it’s really not that hard.

Applied design. Designing space for REAL LIFE. And not ‘maybe.’

Designers, however, need constraints.


Enter 16N.

Sixteen cities. Sixteen people in each city. Meeting me by sheer chance. In venues that start with ‘N.’ To talk, really talk. One moment. Once.

Because that’s the thing that I am craving from the old days, pre-hotmail and my cousin’s notes and the avalanche of fragmenting of the powerful notes that we’d share through letters or talk together with in person, on the phone, late into the night East Coast and West Coast on what we used to have as land lines which never needed juice, just call and there you are. Sunup and I’m still talking to my cousin. Sunny day ahead, because he gets who I really am. When’s the last time I had that kind of conversation? Hours-long and intimate because we did the work, over time, to truly listen to one another. Does it matter? Of course it does. At the end of our lives we will regret not keeping in touch. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.”

16 people. 16 cities. Let’s see what we can find, together.

Who wants to know more? Say ‘hi?’  —DK 

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