The Hipster Effect » The offline world Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The impossibility of a screen-free life /2012/01/04/the-impossibility-of-a-screen-free-life/ /2012/01/04/the-impossibility-of-a-screen-free-life/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 23:46:34 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=488 more]]> When was the last time you went screen-free for a day? I’m not even talking about a whole week or a month here – just a single day. When was the last time you went screen-free for a whopping 24 hours? Spending any amount of time without a screen is getting harder and harder with each year that goes by. So how exactly did we get to this point?

In the beginning, things were slow and expensive. Modern kids will never know of the prolonged pings of a 14.4 modem, of waiting minutes (minutes!) for a single page to load on a painfully slow computer that probably cost over 3,000 dollars. (See if you have the patience to wait for Google to load on a 14.4 modem simulation – I didn’t.) Technology was expensive and even if you did have a computer in your home, the internet was just too slow to spend much time on. Every single page took endless minutes to load, until finally impatience got the best of you and you logged off in frustration. As technology got cheaper and the internet got faster – first on our home computers, then on our handheld devices – waiting for content ceased to be a factor. When everything is instantaneously accessible, there’s no time lapse to allow you to think of other things you could be doing – there’s just content, content, and more content.

In the beginning, there wasn’t much content. Computers were too expensive for most to afford and, even if you had one, you probably didn’t know the first thing about putting content online. It wasn’t until things got cheaper and faster that businesses and institutions went online en masse and the amount of available content started to explode. With more content came more reasons to stay online. We all know the feeling of opening a single Wikipedia entry, only to find ourselves hours later in the nether regions of the web, still clicking away, our original question long answered and forgotten.

In the beginning, you only consumed content – you did not create it. This is where things really branched out from the classic screen of the TV. With the interactive web, not only could you read something – you could leave a comment or write your own rebuttal. Not only could you watch something – you could shoot and upload something yourself. Not only could you consume – you could participate. And so could everybody else.

In the beginning, your social life was relegated to the real world. Sure, there were those among us who spent hours on early communities like Prodigy and AOL, but you weren’t likely to find many of your real-world friends on there. It wasn’t until the rise of the social networking-fueled web that the ability to create content joined the ability to connect with your friends and we all started creating content about our day-to-day lives. We could suddenly store and share our experiences, both past and present, giving us even more of a compelling reason to check into Facebook just one more time.

In the beginning, being online meant being at a desk. Once the laptop became popularized and the wireless internet grew along with it, the chain to our desk was broken and we were finally able to interact with the online world from the comfort of the couch or the dining room table. The rise of the smartphone enhanced that portability even further, allowing all bar bets to be settled immediately and providing an eternally connected lifeline to the online world of content and friendships. The current rise of the tablet is taking things a step even further, allowing us the computing power and larger screen of a traditional computer with the portability of a smartphone. Now, you can be online anywhere, at any time, with anybody.

In the beginning, the online world was more asynchronous – in other words, not everybody was online at the same time. Since being online meant being at a desk, it also meant that you weren’t logged in all of the time, and neither was anybody else. There wasn’t much need to check in more than once or twice a day – there probably wasn’t anything new to see there anyways. Now that we all carry the internet around wherever we go and add content on the fly, there’s constantly something new to check out. We’re logged in more and more of the time, making the online world more and more synchronized with the real world. Being offline means missing out on what’s going on with everybody else. Simply put, being offline means being out of the loop.

In the beginning, bananas did not have QR codes. Yep, last week I reached for a snack only to realize that there was a QR code advertising the new Alvin & The Chipmunks movie staring up at me from this otherwise completely organic product. Advertisers and other businesses have taken it for granted that we’re constantly in arm’s reach of a device. Even the most offline elements of our otherwise online world are now beckoning us back online, back into the connected world, back into the realm of interactivity. Once we get there, the speed and the content are all we need to sending us zipping away down the information superhighway.

And we wonder why it’s so hard to be screen-free.

The difficulty we now face is not how to log off entirely, which admittedly makes us miss out on a lot of what’s going on in the world, but how to integrate the omnipresent internet into our lives without losing touch with the world around us. Initiatives asking us to be screen-free for a week are missing the point. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever be screen-free again, at least not for any extended period of time. Rather than trying to ditch our screens altogether, we need to learn how to integrate the internet into our lives without letting it take over. Screw screen-free. We need to get screen-smart.


Photo credit: jasontoff


/2012/01/04/the-impossibility-of-a-screen-free-life/feed/ 2
Owning vs. renting in the digital age /2011/12/15/owning-vs-renting-in-the-digital-age/ /2011/12/15/owning-vs-renting-in-the-digital-age/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2011 21:12:39 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=476 more]]> Ah, the holidays. ‘Tis the season of giving, the season of receiving, the season of packing our homes just a little more tightly to accommodate all of our new toys and keepsakes. ‘Tis the season of pushing last year’s stuff further into the backs of closets and storage bins, of reveling in the new and forgetting about the old – unless, of course, your gifts happen to be digital.

When it comes to our sense of possession, digital belongings are a far cry from their physical counterparts. I once had an 800 CD music collection that followed me from house to house, from apartment to apartment, from car to car, always with the knowledge that my love of music was inextricably tied to these physical objects. For years, these CDs were both my joy (for their content) and my burden (for their weight and bulk), until one day I was finally able to digitize them and sell off the physical remnants. Though my music collection has since expanded to over 4,000 albums, carrying them around has gotten a whole lot easier – my entire collection now fits on one pocket-sized hard drive.

As a kid and a music freak, it would frustrate me terribly when my brother “borrowed” my CDs, inevitably losing them to that mysterious place where siblings lose all of your best toys. Without the internet to fall back on, lost CDs meant lost music. Nowadays, if somebody accidentally deletes an album out of my collection, there are dozens of online services waiting to put it right back into my hands. With my CD collection, I had a definite sense of owning the music. With my digital collection, the ownership doesn’t really matter; I focus more on using the music.

At a time when most of us are online most of the time, we have little need to own our digital files outright. As long as we can access a given song or movie any time we want, it doesn’t matter where the actual file is stored. Netflix has taken this concept one step further, combining the ability to access some movies digitally (via streaming) with the ability to access all movies physically (via DVD mail rental). It’s an economic model based on rental, and one that asks a single question: why pay to own something when you can just borrow it whenever you want? Nor is this concept limited to just music, movies, games and books. These days, there are online rental services for such diverse goods as luxury handbags and watches, baby toys, and cell phones for overseas travel – in other words, items that would’ve had a limited lifespan anyways.

While our relationship to our physical belongings will always be stronger than the one to our digital files, we would be wise to understand the sometimes fleeting nature of both. Although you may love a particular item now, will you still feel that way in a month? Or in a year? That’s not to say that all items should be rented – far from it. It is, however, to say that perhaps we don’t need to own every single thing we use. In this season of giving and receiving, we should remember that the worth of an object lies in how it’s used, not on whether it’s owned.

(That being said, let’s all go ahead and agree that online dog rental is taking matters a bit too far. I’m talking to you here, FlexPetz.)


Image credit: suavehouse113


/2011/12/15/owning-vs-renting-in-the-digital-age/feed/ 0
Book excerpt: Mr. Bro /2011/12/05/mr-bro/ /2011/12/05/mr-bro/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2011 20:46:57 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=469 more]]> “What’s ‘dude?’ Is that like ‘dude ranch?’”
“Dude means nice guy. Dude means a regular sort of person.”
– Easy Rider, 1969

“Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not ‘Mr. Lebowski.’ You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”
– The Big Lebowski, 1998

When Captain America got onto his motorcycle and rode off into the sunset in the 1969 film Easy Rider, he was off to pursue the dream of a life worth living, one outside of the mainstream and decided upon by his own terms. Similarly, when The Dude ditched all responsibilities to go bowling in 1998’s The Big Lebowski, he was following the unspoken rule of cool: do what you want to do and don’t worry what other people think. Each film was pivotal for its generation, defining a cool aesthetic and providing a hero who lived life on his own terms and did his own thing despite any nay-saying. But in the three decades that elapsed between the two films, a lot had changed. In Easy Rider, our heroes meet a tragic ending as a result of their subcultural lifestyle. Much of the film is spent defending themselves against regular folks who just don’t get why they have long hair and ride motorcycles. They are seen as a menace to be avoided. Although The Big Lebowski took a decidedly funnier approach to the subcultural David vs. mainstream Goliath story, the message was largely the same: the lead character was a rebel trying to live his life outside of the confines of day-to-day society – only this time, The Dude ran into conflict because of a random coincidence, not because he was shunned by everybody around him for his appearance.

Life in the 21st century is casual in a way that life in the 1960s never was, particularly in the United States. Back then, you wore a suit not only to go to work, but to go to a restaurant, to go to a theater, to get on a plane, or to do just about anything else that required leaving the house. You addressed your neighbors as Mr. and Mrs. Jones and they addressed you the same way. Jeans were meant for farmers and physical laborers. You did not share the intimate details of your life with anybody but your nearest and dearest, and you definitely didn’t share them anonymously or with strangers. Proper etiquette was vital and the fork always had to go on the left, even if you were eating one of those newly invented TV dinners. Rules were unspoken and social conventions dictated your actions depending on whatever situation you found yourself in. And you most certainly did not ask anybody to call you Dude.

Fast forward to present day and it doesn’t take a Julia Child to tell you that everything has changed. Although many jobs still require you to wear a suit, increasing amounts of billionaires run their companies wearing jeans and a t-shirt. You are on an instant first name basis with every telemarketer and store clerk you meet and would probably be considered stiff if you tried to introduce yourself to neighbors by last name only. Etiquette is reserved for fancy restaurants and business luncheons. We blog, we tweet, we update our statuses, and we share a remarkable level of detail about our lives with complete strangers. We speak in slang and we write in abbreviations. Having a nickname is cool and being able to go to work in your sweats is a sign of privilege, not of slovenliness. The omnipresence of camera phones makes it easy to catch you off-guard and immediately share your image online with your friends, family and colleagues. Being formal is boring and stuffy. Being artfully informal is the new name of the game.

To be cool in previous eras meant to brazenly show off your informality. It was a sign of rebellion against societal norms and it took a lot of guts to so openly defy proper cultural conventions. These days, there’s just not as much to defy. Even though social norms still exist and cause great amounts of judgment and gossip, people are no longer shocked as easily. Nonconformity becomes more and more difficult as conformity becomes more and more casual and has more and more iterations. Once, we sought to have freedom from doing what was required of us. Now, we want freedom to do what we want. The Captain America of Easy Rider would hardly be noticed today, nor would The Big Lebowski’s Dude turn many heads. In an age when we have every choice in the world constantly laid out before our eyes and can join as many microcultures as we want to based on whatever our interests may be, we do have the freedom to do what we want. And even if we can’t do it in person, we can always head over to the internet and do it all anonymously.

The above is an excerpt from my new book, “The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


Image credit: Screenshot from The Big Lebowski


/2011/12/05/mr-bro/feed/ 0
Remembering downtime /2011/09/21/remembering-downtime/ /2011/09/21/remembering-downtime/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 18:09:39 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=56 more]]> It’s no secret that technology is everywhere. Touchscreen this, automated that, internet-connected those; in the modern world, there’s just no running away from our electronic counterparts. This we do not seem to mind. The part that gives us trouble is the fact that technology is every-when.

According to a recent report from iPass, 35% of mobile workers check their email first thing in the morning, with most others checking in throughout their morning routine. By the time they actually begin the day’s work, a full 83.5% of mobile workers have already logged into their email accounts. Half of all employed email users check their work mail on the weekends, according to another report from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project. Yet another report by Nielsen reveals that Americans spend 23% of their time online using social networks, most of that time occurring in the evenings after work. At a time when most of us keep our smartphones within arm’s reach of where we sleep, is there any hope for recouping some of our long-forgotten downtime?


Social Thermostat by Hugo Eccles


This is where Designer Hugo Eccles comes in. Unveiled this week during a group show at this week’s London Design Festival, Eccles has created several devices whose sole purpose is to “jam the communication channels.” Whether cutting off all forms of technology completely, blocking workers from accessing social networks during the day, or turning the bedroom into a no-social-network zone, these Slow Tech devices are aimed at bringing downtime back into our daily lives. Details and photos after the jump.

via Cool Hunting

Statistics via Marketing Charts and Mashable
Social Thermostat photo credit: Cool Hunting
Additional photo credit: GS+


/2011/09/21/remembering-downtime/feed/ 0