Douglas Adams (in 1999 no less):

[T]he reason we suddenly need such a word [as “interactivity”] is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport—the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.

As Eno pointed out, by naming something you say, “this is now real.” We can define something just as much by what is than we can by what is not. Unhappiness, for instance, teaches us invaluable lessons about happiness. When, then, will “wireless” become extinct?

[This and this via]


The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. —Gilbert Keith Chesterton

They were right. As they’d predicted two decades ago in 2013, half of humanity now lives in cities with nearly 60 percent of our world’s population as urban dwellers. Cities have not only grown in size and population, their very interface has changed.

Back then, citizens were enthusiastic about the layered effect of our data so we could search, sort, friend, follow, retrieve, and archive it in the interest of exactitude. Google, Twitter, Foursquare were changing technology — which is to say, culture. These, and more, increased the opportunity for specificity as they decreased the chance for serendipity.

But humans grew uncomfortable. Things got smarter. Time sped up and time compressed as people became more informed, more efficient, more connected, faster. While the rise of the slow (at first, slow food, then slow web, slow cities) began as rhetoric, it took as a movement.

With more inhabitants than ever before, cities had become not a place for human interaction, but for precise location and retrieval. Entering addresses and finding exact points on the map (with recommended walk/drive/transit directions!) left little up to chance. As humans found more, they had less. Media inventors of any notoriety launched apps and services that provided shortcuts: shortcuts to getting lost, shorthand for privacy, short forms of disconnecting.

Meantime, undigital became luxury. Spas, once islands of tranquility and beauty, became islands of undigital luxury goods. Free “off the grid service” services sold out. This pastoral new concord has had an effect. Humans choose longer lines, the slow lane, practice inexact query formation. Because without the slow, the good was not recognizable.

The divide between the connected and unconnected continues to demonstrate an economic discord: those living comfortably are also living un-connectedly. Unubiquitious computing demands have inspired developers to rush to build unconnected communities. The new connected is to be disconnected. Deadspots are the new hotspots.

Moving toward is moving away, and hence, the notion of density and progress has changed. It’s our job to pause, coordinate, and design opportunities for chance.

This thought was first published by The Pastry Box Project



David Rakoff takes on the Disney Innoventions Dream House:

[C]an we pause for a moment to talk about that term, Innovention? A neologism that, in an effort to turbo-charge meaning, takes two perfectly eloquent and unassailable words and by combining them renders both suspect. It is a word developed by a committee, one that can only be spoken unironically if one is being paid to do so, like menus in chain restaurants that list “Snacketizers” and “Appeteasers.” Can’t you just taste the process-mapping? The neon-orange layer of melted reconstituted-milk-solids-derived “cheese,” the pink stratum of animal-protein-cultured “meat”? Vacuum-packed and irradiated and shipped to some franchise that itself was unpackaged from boxes sent directly from corporate, with ready-made walls of homey, weathered fake brick and battered retro license plates. “Innovention” can only leave a similar taste in the mouth. It makes one suspicious, wondering about the ways in which the object in question is found so wanting, so insufficiently innovative or lacking in invention to warrant this linguistic boost. (p.117)

Just another i-word.



The musician Brian Eno invented a word to describe “genius” as the entirety of a scene, rather than the work of an individual:

Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes. Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.”

You see:

Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors:

• Mutual appreciation
• Rapid exchange of tools and techniques

• Network effects of success
• Local tolerance for the novelties

When you find this place, hold on.




Steven Heller lets us in on the history of a wall of 1,450 letters:

The Gastrotypographicalassemblage was the 11-meter-wide, handmade, wooden typographic wall that hung in the CBS cafeteria in New York designed by Lou Dorfsman. The custom type created by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase and containing almost 1500 individual characters.

Over at Speak Up, more on the wall that Lou Dorfsman built:

The Gastrotypographicalassemblage, commonly referred to as “the wall,” is enormous; it is 33 feet in length and 8 feet in height, give or take a few inches. The piece is a mélange of food-related words and objects, a perfectly orchestrated collage of appetite. At last count, more than 1,450 letters converge to create this experience. No doubt, you have seen similar orchestrations, walls of words in restaurants or shops that were composed with vinyl letters; yet, the Gastrotypographicalassemblage is the first of its kind. It is the icon to which others owe their existence.

You have just a few more days before it exhibits to practice saying “Gastrotypographicalassemblage” out loud.



The unstoppable Radio Lab introduces Words, where one thing leads to another:

Words have the power to shape the way we think and feel. In this stunning video, filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante bandy visual wordplay into a moving exploration of how language connects our inner thoughts to the outside world.

It’s impossible to imagine a world without words. Over on the radio, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich help us do just that. Overlapping wisdom abounds.




Eunioa, a new book that tells the story, in a way, of vowels:

Eunoia is the shortest word in English containing all five vowels — and it means “beautiful thinking”. It is also the title of Canadian poet Christian Bök’s book of fiction in which each chapter uses only one vowel.

Eunoia abides by many rules:

All chapters must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage. All sentences must accent internal rhyme through the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 90% of the available repertoire.

And excerpt from Chapter O:

Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books. Books form cocoons of comfort — tombs to hold bookworms. Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth. Dons who work for proctors or provosts do not fob off school to work on crosswords, nor do dons go off to dorm rooms to loll on cots. Dons go crosstown to look for bookshops known to stock lots of top-notch goods: cookbooks, workbooks — room on room of how-to-books for jocks (how to jog, how to box), books on pro sports: golf or polo. Old colophons on schoolbooks from schoolrooms sport two sorts of logo: oblong whorls, rococo scrolls – both on worn morocco.

See one in motion.




Simon Schama on the language of food:

The overthrow of gastronomie for “fooding” is the most dramatic recent instance of a language act that is not just incidental to but inseparable from the constitution of a food universe. For it may be that we have now become too logorrhoeic for our own good, whether it’s the almost unimaginable proliferation of food journalism and cookbooks, the multiplication of television food programmes (I plead guilty as an occasional accomplice); the appalling habit (marked in the United States) of training waiting staff to deliver lengthy disquisitions and sermons on their specials — often, and inaccurately, with the personal pronoun attached (as in “my sea bass today comes with wild rice and a stuffing of celery root and rutabaga”). Then there is the menu itself — often a work of faux-literature minus any obligation to obey the basic rules of syntax.

A word of advice, one among many brainy passages:

I’ve made it my own rule of thumb — and I recommend it to you — never to order any item described with more than one verb.

Bon appétit.




Paul Ford on evolution versus erosion:

In Latin evolvere means “to unroll,” like a sacred scroll. The word “evolve” implies action. But evolution isn’t what happens; it’s what’s left over. Traits arise in populations; death sweeps through; some traits survive to the next generation. And repeat. Species don’t evolve — they erode. And the rock keeps lifting.

Infinite numbers of patterns exist in eroded experiences; they present themselves in urban environments, in nature. Yet instead of focusing on what’s left behind, we, hurrying forward, miss them. Therein the paradox: staying behind may be moving ahead.

(thx, Jason)



Spencer Fry on the definition of “normals:”

A Normal is maybe not an everyday person in every way, but has limited Internet knowledge. They certainly don’t read TechCrunch, they haven’t heard of RSS feeds, they probably don’t have a smart phone or at least don’t have many apps installed, and although they surf the Web a lot, they have little clue what a web browser really is. Another telltale sign is that instead of going directly to web pages, they use the search bar. You know these people if you’re reading this blog.

It’s more important to reach normals:

Normals make up far more than 99% of Internet users. If you fail to reach the masses then you’ll simply fail. You can be the hottest startup on the block with 100,000 active early adopters, but I’d trade every one of those users for Normals in all cases.

Focus on normals. So simple and often overlooked.



Scott Berkun on banning the i-word:

Einstein, Ford, Picasso and Edison rarely said the word innovation and neither should you.


Ask people who say innovation what they mean. If ever anyone says the word in a meeting, ask “Can you give an example of what you mean by innovative?” If they can’t, you’ve just saved everyone in the room hours of time. Using the i-word is often a cop-out for clear thinking. They are trying to signify creativity, without actually being creative.




Seth Godin on clichés:

In printing, a cliché was a printing plate cast from movable type. This is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly as a single slug of metal. “Cliché” came to mean such a ready-made phrase. The French word “cliché” comes from the sound made when the matrix is dropped into molten metal to make a printing plate.

His secret weapon on how to use clichés:

The effective way to use a cliché is to point to it and then do precisely the opposite. Juxtapose the cliché with the unexpected truth of what you have to offer. …. I often use the Encyclopedia of Clichés to find clichés that then inspire opposites.

Hear the sound of stereotypes, a 1949 Number Four VanderCook Proof Printing Press in particular.