juggernaut of collective awesomeness

I opened up a new career path for myself the other night—i jacked a car. Well, it took nearly an hour, claimed the life of a foot-scale, and involved five people and eight pairs of raised eyebrows and two phone calls and three “one last time” declarations and an iron rod and lots of groaning and exasperation, but that nasty key-hostageofying car was jacked into submission.

I won’t deny it: the deed boosted my sense of achievement; it did so manifold. The prospects of a life post car-jacking are infinite, you see—this was bigger than acing the boards; bigger than being born even, don’t you think? And then, i called up a friend, and he was like, “You opened your uncle’s car without a key? Oh, well, cool. Youknow, that car is easy to jack. ..Did you see the youtube videos where they jack cars in seconds?”

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Each person has a small (but incredibly important) amount of awesomeness in him; in the good old days this enthralled you, and you acknowledged it so. It was novel to see those around us try new things, and they were always the ‘best in the world’ at that in your eyes.

Today, however, we’re exposed to a juggernaut of collective awesomeness; in a few minutes of youtubing, we can skim through the combined achievement of seven billion potential car-jackers on the planet, rendering us incapable of admiring the babystep achievements of those that live around us; “It took you 1 minute? Nice. ..Butheyyouknow?, there’s this Russian who can do this in five point eight eight seconds?! You’ve got to watch him. He’s totally incredible.”

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If i haven’t seen the same thing done faster (or: better, bigger, insaner, incredibler or shinier), it helps me better appreciate the little achievements of the people around me. Sometimes, i assert, it’s nice not to have the world at your fingertips. At other times though, i wonder, “Could i have jacked the car without scratching its glass so?”

I want to learn how to program. And how to tie a clove-hitch. I wonder, did a Dutch calligrapher actually write a book on the theory of writing? Have there really been cases of this phone exploding during a call? Can we watch her perform a spacewalk? Live? Wow. ..It’s amazing how you can ask, “What else is possible?”, and the world will coalesce to inspire you (literally) beyond your wildest dreams.

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When her baby takes its first step, i’d like to see a mother open Wikipedia and go, “Carl Lewis did that and ran 100 metres in under 10 seconds in 1983. Such a slob you are, child.”

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Like most other people, designers embroil themselves in the act of creating something for someone else to use. But the artforms we employ are as difficult to grasp as learning how to walk; we need to train our eyes and our mind, discover new muscles, unearth patience, and resolve to undertake things that some dead dude performed nonpareil centuries ago, or (even more daunting) attempt to flirt with media that no one ever skirted before.

In pre-telegraph eras it was easy to compete with dead people, though. The trouble with today is that a sixteen year old who can draw portraits outright with photographic precision inadvertently mocks your disproportionate figure-sketches right out of your phone’s screen. People who don’t know what a broad-nibbed pen is are (at best) indifferent to your calligraphy, because they’d seen videos of a Japanese calligrapher decorate basketball courts using a mop and red paint.

Conversely,
In those pre-telegraph eras it was difficult to compete against yourself—because you didn’t know when, how, where and whatfor to push yourself. After a while, you settled into a style and got comfortable, even though all your forms began to look a bit monotonous to you. When confronted with exasperation, today, a designer can pull out her phone, turn to the interwoven juggernaut of collective awesomeness, and discover how other frogs curdled themselves out of a similar bowl of milk.

The sixteen year old wasn’t mocking you—he just showed you that it was humanly possible to get that good. The Japanese fellow merely used a different set of tools—shouldn’t you draw with a new set of tools today? Or, for extra-fun, change the medium itself? Here’s a thought—let’s draw on air. Do you really want to; just don’t know how? Well, let’s ask the world then.

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(written at codesign.)