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Reframing"Luddite"&"elitist"charges against foodies

Just a couple links to think about in relation to our current food systems and the foodies out there, and I would argue you could probably replace the word “food” with “technology” and other things as well. I fall into these traps of thinking or labeling or prejudging sometimes, and often it’s helpful to check myself and my thinking.

illustration by Victo Ngai

Elitists

It’s pretty easy to consider those who have the means to shell out money for good organic food a foodie, and worse a foodie elitist. Let’s reframe that. These foodies are leading the way, showing how things can be if we stop buying processed food, start eating real food again. I don’t agree with the author’s point about CSA subscribers also chipping in to pay for extra subscriptions for low-income families as a solution to getting organic food into our communities. But I do agree that we shouldn’t make people feel guilty for paying “more” for better food if they can afford it.

To suggest that advocating for such a change makes me an elitist is to disparage positive decision making and behavior…The victim mentality our culture encourages actually induces guilt among people making progress. That’s crazy. We should applaud positive behavior and encourage others to follow suit, not demonize and discourage it. Would it be better to applaud people who buy amalgamated, reconstituted, fumigated, irradiated, genetically modified industrial garbage?

Luddites

At the same time, some people (including myself) are guilty of romanticizing the past “when we all had time to cook” or “when we didn’t have all these internet distractions.” It’s good to get a reality check sometimes and realize that in many ways, we are much better off now with our industrialized food than we were “back then.” It’s just an evolution of the processes in our lives, and while the core messages of the Slow Food movement may be applauded, it’s actually counterproductive to automatically malign certain technological advances that have given us fast food and mass production and whatever else. Let’s look forward instead of looking backward, says Rachel Laudan for Utne Reader.

Culinary Luddites are right, though, about two important things: We need to know how to prepare good food, and we need a culinary ethos. As far as good food goes, they’ve done us all a service by teaching us how to use the bounty delivered to us by (ironically) the global economy. Their ethos, though, is another matter. Were we able to turn back the clock, as they urge, most of us would be toiling all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be starving.

Nostalgia is not what we need. What we need is an ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialized food, not one that dismisses it; an ethos that opens choices for everyone, not one that closes them for many so that a few may enjoy their labor; and an ethos that does not prejudge, but decides case by case when natural is preferable to processed, fresh to preserved, old to new, slow to fast, artisanal to industrial. Such an ethos, and not a timorous Luddism, is what will impel us to create the matchless modern cuisines appropriate to our time.

Chew on that bit of nuance for awhile.

Unplugging to Combat Information Overload

We discussed information overload in Kolko’s theory class on Monday. I heard and read a lot of stuff on the same topic this summer. It felt like a lot of people felt the need to “unplug” as a means of 1) coping with digital overload, 2) as an experiment to see what they and their lives were like in the absence of digital connection, or 3) to learn how they could find balance between online-self and offline-self.

Here are some unplugging options, complete with people who have been there, done that:

TAKING A BREAK, COLD TURKEY

Gwen Bell helps clients figure out their online messages and also helps technologists figure out how to unplug. She has a vast online presence, and this past July felt the need to take a month off…and found that the pace of life and her depth of observation changed.

I remembered what it’s like to listen with intention. I practiced first with myself and then by turning my attention wholly onto the other…

The more I reflect on it, I’m not sure that’s scalable. I know for sure that trying to listen to four thousand folks (on Twitter, for instance) all at once isn’t just impossible. It’s unsustainable and makes my heart race.

James Sturm is the director for the Center for Cartoon Studies. He wrote of his decision to give up the internet for 8 weeks:

“Over the last several years, the Internet has evolved from being a distraction to something that feels more sinister. Even when I am away from the computer I am aware that I AM AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER and am scheming about how to GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER.”

Sturm blogged about his offline experiences (and the ironies of blogging about his offline experiences) for Slate.com, replied to postal mail from readers instead of online comments, and shifted some of his internet burdens (ex. looking up map directions) onto his wife.

SETTING LIMITS

David Wyatt co-owns and serves as Business Director of Wyatt Brand in Austin. He handles PR and online messaging for many of his clients, so it was natural for him to be online all of the time. He decided at the end of summer to turn on “The Off Switch.” He got rid of his iPhone and set ground rules to limit his internet usage.

I hadn’t realized how much the constant, intermittent use of technology throughout my day was complicit in me becoming increasingly more anxious, less patient, distracted, less creative, irritable, aggressive, selfish, less courteous, etc. Conversely, by corralling technology into planned times and places, I will go a few hours without checking in and it is like a breath of fresh air. I feel more content and aware.

DIVIDING TIME

This is not directly related to the internets, but Judith Shulevitz wrote a book called The Sabbath World wherein she explores her relationship to the routines and meanings behind the rituals and laws of the Jewish Sabbath—a time specifically set aside to rest and to spend with loved ones. She speaks about segregating her time and creating spaces in her life for spirituality in this John Templeton Foundation video series as well as on NPR’s Fresh Air. Here is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article Shulevitz wrote:

This, by the way, is not because we’re workaholics or Internet addicts or because religion is on the wane. It is objectively harder to stop working now than in Frankfurter’s day. The pace and rhythms of work have quickened, and each pause costs more than it used to. Globalization, just-in-time manufacturing and electronic networks, among other things, have made it possible to synchronize production and communication around the globe, but they have also made it necessary to operate on a 24/7 schedule. This creates, in effect, something that Josef Stalin once admiringly called the continuous workweek. Meanwhile, mobile devices have annulled the rules that used to prompt us to stop working at regular times (5 p.m., say) and pushed us into a zone of frictionless activity without temporal boundaries.

…But the Sabbath is not just a day off. It is also an idea. Actually, it’s three ideas, embedded in the Fourth Commandment, the one that talks of keeping the Sabbath.

The first is the idea that everyone, not just the idle rich, has a right to rest regularly. The second is the idea that the good society makes life better for its members by protecting that rest.

The third idea, which is perhaps the most powerful of all, is simply to “remember the Sabbath.” That is something we all can do, whether or not we choose to honor it. We can simply think hard about it, trying to puzzle out all that this very old and once-venerable human institution has to teach us about work, rest, time, sanity and the good life. What we might come up with if we figured that out remains a tantalizing mystery.

FOR ME

I’m really drawn to the idea of carving out spaces to have analog experiences in my weekly schedule. It seems doable: create relatively-short regularly-scheduled times when I’m completely unplugged. Something to try, to try and combat the feeling of drowning I sometimes get amidst the churning feeds and informational abyss of the interwebs.

chart resources

Here are a few links that might be helpful as we all work on our models and charts.

Communicating Designwireframes, flowcharts and personas and other UX deliverables

Concept Models—A Tool for planning Websitessome great tips at the end of the post

MindMap Inspirationgreat examples of mindmaps + info.

Cool Infographicscool infographics samples

Small Labscollection of NY TImes infographics

FlowingDataanother collection of data visualizations

Strange Mapscollection unique maps

visual complexitycollection data visualizations

infostheticscollection data visualizations

many eyescollection, tools and info. about data visualization

Great data vizualization links:

@ahmedriaz sent out a tweet last night with a link to this data visualization documentary:  Journalism in the age of Data .  It’s fantastic and interviews some of the people who are really pushing data visualization techniques to the next level.

There are a lot of references throughout the doc to interesting visualization sites and projects, but there were two I found particularly interesting: The IBM project Many Eyes, which provides free tools for visualization, and the site Data.gov which provides a massive amount of accessible data.

Data party.  woooo wooo.

The Bod Squad

A friend of mine is working on a project to fight childhood obesity by starting a kids fitness TV program called The Bod Squad. They’re looking for funding through kickstarter and have some hilarious incentives to donate.  I think this is a great example that shows the level you can take an idea with little or no funding… and then put it out there to see if you can raise the money to make it happen.  What’s great about Kickstarter is that you can make small donations, so give ’em $2 and let’s see if we can make the show happen!  A quick description from my friend Nick Gage below:

As you may or may not know, one of the many projects keeping me busy over the past few months has been the development of a children’s fitness show with my good friend Kira Elliot.   Kira is that rare blend of tireless TV producer (having worked at Nickelodean for years) and physical trainer (having run her own gym for the past three years).

The show is called “The Bod Squad.”  It is an interactive show that requires non-stop movement from the viewers (the kids) as they aid our protagonists (Abby and Maximus) on their journey throughout the body.  Its aim is to promote healthy habits and lifestyles while doing its part to stem the tide of the childhood obesity epidemic.  I co-wrote the pilot episode and am writing the music for the webisodes and the TV pilot.  We’re up and running online at thebodsquad.tv