Here's a really excellent essay by the smart friend of a friend about recognizing your perceptions and misconceptions and biases. It's called Hating America and it's one of those things that reinforces my long-held idea that travel outside your native country should be mandatory. It's also kicked me in my mental ass and reminded me that travel inside my native country and losing some snobbery should also be mandatory.
Category: stretching your mind
Discard (or at least acknowledge) your design sensibility baggage
One of the best commentators on culture, politics and creativity today is also one of the funniest. Ze Frank is a real inspiration to me and his little video show from Friday includes one of his best longer pieces yet.
Watch the show.
Here it is as transcribed by the fabulosos of the The Show wiki:
For a very long time, taste and artistic training have been things
that only a small number of people have been able to develop. Only a
few people could afford to participate in the production of many types
of media. Raw materials like pigments were expensive; same with tools
like printing presses; even as late as 1963 it cost Charles Peignot
over $600,000 to create and cut a single font family.
The small number of people who had access to these tools and
resources created rules about what was good taste or bad taste. These
designers started giving each other awards and the rules they followed
became even more specific. All sorts of stuff about grids and sizes and
color combinations — lots of stuff that the consumers of this media
never consciously noticed. Over the last 20 years, however, the cost of
tools related to the authorship of media has plummeted. For very little
money, anyone can create and distribute things like newsletters, or
videos, or bad-ass tunes about "ugly."
Suddenly consumers are learning the language of these
authorship tools. The fact that tons of people know names of fonts like
Helvetica is weird! And when people start learning something new, they
perceive the world around them differently. If you start learning how
to play the guitar, suddenly the guitar stands out in all the music you
listen to. For example, throughout most of the history of movies, the
audience didn't really understand what a craft editing was. Now, as
more and more people have access to things like iMovie, they begin to
understand the manipulative power of editing. Watching reality TV
almost becomes like a game as you try to second-guess how the editor is
trying to manipulate you.
As people start learning and experimenting with these languages
authorship, they don't necessarily follow the rules of good taste. This
scares the shit out of designers.
In Myspace, millions of people have opted out of pre-made
templates that "work" in exchange for ugly. Ugly when compared to
pre-existing notions of taste is a bummer. But ugly as a representation
of mass experimentation and learning is pretty damn cool.
Regardless of what you might think, the actions you take to
make your Myspace page ugly are pretty sophisticated. Over time as
consumer-created media engulfs the other kind, it's possible that
completely new norms develop around the notions of talent and artistic
So, Discardians, get out there and create whatever the heck you want to!
Re-appreciate your homeland and all its people
Today is a good one to look around with fresh eyes at the country where you live and see again the things you love about it.
Find common ground with your neighbors and with those people you sometimes forget are your neighbors.
For people in the United States, I offer this challenge: Appreciate the differences that make this country so vital and fascinating.
That means embracing the true diversity, bible belt and urban liberals, new immigrants and Daughters of the American Revolution, 5th-generation Spanish-speaking California farmworker and foreign-born governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It's a wild and frustrating mix, difficult to blend and to understand the other viewpoints, but we don't get to pretend that only the parts we like exist and that the rest could be discarded. Like a person with pleasing & irritating habits, the pieces make the whole that we interact with.
Make the best of it, and I don't mean "lump it", I mean those words very literally: make it the best you can make it.
New tricks for old dogs
Not in university anymore, but still like learning new things?
Fill your iPod with lectures from your library's non-fiction CD collection. Go for a walk or to the gym and let you body and your mind both get stretched.
A particularly good series to watch for is the Teaching Company's Great Courses series. (Here, for example, is what San Francisco Public Library has).
Agreeing to Disagree
You may never find the common ground that allows you to understand all of why your opponent on something approaches the situation as he does, but you do need to let go of the idea that he does what he does because he is stupid or evil.
Let go of this so that you can move forward from a position of greater comprehension about the situation as whole.
Let go of this so that others – opponents, allies or observers – are less inclined to see you and your viewpoint as naive.
Let go of this so you are more open to a successful outcome.
Discard Your Isolation: Travel Locally
Many European countries border on as many as 10 or more neighboring countries; the United States only borders on 2. No wonder it's hard for average folks to afford a vacation to experience life in another country.
There is one thing anyone can do, though, and that's visit cultural centers within the big city nearest to you. Go spend a weekend or at least a whole day in a place where people speak a different language, eat new foods, and learn about the history and traditions of another culture.
A great way to pick where to explore is to see what other languages your local election ballots come in or the library's web site is offered in. Or call the local library and ask about census numbers for languages spoken. Searching on the web for your city name and "demographics" will probably also give you interesting information (though do consider the source before you assume it's accurate).
For a San Franciscan like me, the obvious choices are exploring the city's Chinese and Hispanic communities. A third of the population is Asian, so there are many neighborhoods full of Chinese restaurants and shops and we have one of the premier museums of Asian art. With a name like "San Francisco", it doesn't take a rocket scientist or a walk through the Mission District to suggest that Mexican and Spanish cultural are a huge part of the background of the city.
Where can you travel without having to leave town?