I can’t stop listening to this song. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra just released their new album, Theatre is Evil, and it’s available now for “pay what you want.”
A few of you know that Jonathan Harris is one of my professional crushes. I’ve known him for his projects like We Feel Fine and Whale Hunt, and I received his daily photos and stories in my inbox the year+ he was working on Today. I admired his ability to craft data and code to tell stories and craft experiences. At IdeaMensch, Shivani Siroya talked about the fact that one is only able to “connect the dots” of one’s life in hindsight, and Harris uses his Creative Mornings talk to do just that: to reflect on the big ideas (Paint, Data, Life, Me, Tools) that have driven his work along the way, the promises they promised, and the shortcomings they cost.
Now I better understand his trajectory.
And why the vulnerability of physical art led him to data,
whose superficiality led him to chasing intense life experiences,
whose limited scale and depth led him to recording his internal life,
whose constant documentation hindered actually living,
which refocused him on building tools–software that engineers our lives & habits & cultures, that change our behavior, that exaggerate our urges, that give us our new normals.
His new company, Cowbird, has been designed to counteract the trends he’s been seeing in the way tech has shaped our lives:
He also talks about the need for people working in tech to start thinking about ethics because software are our testing grounds before the technological interventions start merging with our bodies.
Is your company Healing (solving a problem, fulfilling a need, marketplaces connecting people to other people) or Dealing (attention economies, convincing people to spend a lot of time here, using people and their info as currency)?
And in the most refreshing way, he wraps up his talk with a story about turning Cowbird into a company–being on the treadmill, being in Silicon Valley, surrounded by people who were all starting their own companies, raising rounds of money…and then pausing, reflecting, realizing this isn’t what he wanted to do, that it wasn’t what was right for Cowbird, and stepping off that path. Cowbird will remain small, they didn’t take the seed rounds, they will figure out how to make some money in the near future without ads, and they will let it grow organically. Allowing this project to teach him and lead him and evolve him as a person–just as he has always done.
Some processes–like developing photos in a dark room, brewing beer from hops, or making your own clothes–require commitment, care, knowledge, and equipment to master. How often do you get an opportunity to play and experiment with a full process in a weekend? I was lucky enough to be able to dye my own fabric with natural materials during my recent trip to Austin. Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers put out a call for volunteers to help tame her overgrown garden of indigo plants, and I volunteered moreso for the break from computer work than anything else. Since I wasn’t going to be in Austin for very long, I hadn’t planned on taking any of the indigo plants she offered to us after our work in the garden. But as she explained that the process could take as little as a few hours, I couldn’t resist the urge to try my hand at something new. With a little borrowing and scrounging (of jars, sewing machines, thermometers, unused fabric, and a piece of backyard space), I got to play with indigo dye and experience some more chemistry magic. (A new trend, perhaps?)
DAY 1 Harvest
DAY 2-3 Ferment
DAY 4 Dye
DAY 5 Sew
If you’d like to try your hand, here are some books and resources:
- Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess
Many thanks to Maura & Kathryn for inspiration, tips, and helping hands along the way!