Counter-practice

Build b.032_670

I’ll admit that I was nervous about presenting at Build in Belfast this week. I’ve attended many conferences and I’ve been presenting in front of audiences for years, but never anything quite like this. Build is popular, it’s filmed, and I know it’ll be out there forever. And I really respect the line-up of past speakers, so the pressure to contribute to the very last one was intense.

I worked on Resistance (scenes from a designer’s counter-practice) for a few months and it’s the only talk I felt I could give right now. I took an honest, personal approach but it was a struggle to write, and the nature of the cultural critique in the first half made me very anxious. I didn’t want to appear to be anti-digital, or mean-spirited, or that I was suggesting that we should all disconnect.

From what I can tell, this wasn’t a problem. Reactions were good. People got it. My message—that we have permission to perform small acts of resistance against the dominant narratives of design culture—seemed to resonate with a lot of people, and now it’s spreading online.

One person pushed back about my delivery, at the after-party—a Swedish man, visibly drunk, who told me that his experience of my talk was like listening to NPR: that it was beautifully done but too scripted, and he told me that if I wanted it to be brilliant I needed to be more like a jazz musician. Fuck that. I’m not a jazz musician.

I really enjoyed hearing the other speakers. Nicole Fenton gave a beautiful talk about beginner’s mind for writing, a philosophy that can be applied to any aspect of life.

I think Jeremy Keith’s observations are spot-on. He found a thread running through the day, and throughout the last five years of Build events, which seemed to be a kind of critique of the web’s power structures and our need to do better. Frank Chimero ended Build by opening it back up to us, asking us to ask what people want, and arguing that we need better maps to envision a different kind of future for the web. I honestly don’t think that future will have anything to do with screens or scripting or pages or movement. It might require a fundamental shift in the human spirit, and that’s something I can’t even imagine.

One Comment

  1. Every morning I freewrite in a cafe. It stays in my computer, for my eyes only. But today, I will take verbatim (minus the typos) what I wrote.
    “Well, I just read Paul’s talk “Counterpractice.” It is so well written and such a different way to approach the whole phenomenon of what we are going through now, re: time and speed and throw-away and digital-only, etc, and it is making so much sense of all he is doing in his own work. It is quite remarkable. It really pulls so much together. So, how to tell him this?
    There are many places in his talk where I think of examples that support what he is saying. I think about snapchat, I think about the guy, the story teller, for national geographic walking across the desert. (I could google right now to remember his name but I won’t. My mini-act of resistance.) And I remember the column I wrote about making a pilgrimage to see a work of art, rather than going to the local block buster, because the blockbuster has to show the lowest common denominator. In other words, what Paul wrote/showed does, indeed, resonate at every turn. (of the page, so to speak.)
    And I have been grappling with how I want my work to be seen. Do I care about reach? Is it more important to have a broad and large audience, or is it better to go deep with a small one? The question of Breadth vs. Depth.
    And atthis very moment I get a new email fom Tumblr that says “Soulellis now following you”: and I feel my regular feeling: ashamed bc I have, ummm, maybe one or two posts there. I have not kept up, I have not fed that particular part of the machine. But now I see my guilt it in the context of Paul’s talk, and I understand it in a new way. Perhaps that is the truest way I can tell Paul how important his piece is. To see something that is ingrained in me in a new way, and to consider how this affects my practice.”

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