Hello! I return refreshed after a lovely late summer break in Cornwall, which is why you’ve not had an email for the last couple of weeks. (It’s also why there are six links in this one – I hope a slice of my summer reading list still has time to join yours.)
This week’s article looks at the commoditisation of creativity, something that I suspect all of us in the “creative industry” feel a mixture of excitement and fear at the prospect of. As everyone becomes a creator, as specialist tools give way to ones that anyone can use, and as publishing becomes a cost-free and instantaneous process, what will be left for us?
I think there’s reason to be hopeful, and that success will come from realising which part of the creative process has not yet been – and, I think, never will be – commoditised. It’s all about taste.
Creative ideas are becoming easier to have and easier to execute. They’re becoming commodities, low in value and interchangeable. In this brutal world, is there anything left for the professional creative? I think there is.
From 2015: Sam Knight’s dispatch from the Welsh war on Japanese knotweed, and the realisation that we’re not so different from the invasive, unkillable pest:
“Taylor kept talking about the knotweed’s power and versatility, and I thought I detected in his voice some of the admiration that I had heard from other professionals who had dedicated their working lives to controlling the weed, a feeling that Trevor Renals, the national invasive-species adviser at the U.K.’s Environment Agency, described when he told me about the time he saw a shoot of knotweed rise from a plant that he thought he had killed thirteen years earlier. ‘That’s my girl.’
“But in fact what Taylor was expressing was not admiration but the pain of recognition, another feeling that many people experience when encountering the plant, and one that I found myself suffering from during the summer I spent in its company. There is no weedier or more invasive species than humankind, and the world that we have made is for generalist organisms like us – Norwegian rats, common crows, zebra mussels, long-horned beetles, brown tree snakes – that can thrive on the far side of any mountain. ‘I mean, Antarctica is the only place we’ve not actually gone to and adapted to,’ said Taylor. ‘Japanese knotweed is the same.’”
Phil Levin ponders why all our cities are old (even in the US), what it might take to start a new one, and why that might be a good idea. #
Hillel Wayne examines the question of whether software developers are “real” engineers, a question that has broader relevance than you might think. #
James Roach explains why the marketing funnel is a less than useful concept: it doesn’t reflect the reality of purchase journeys, which are messy and non-linear and highly individual.
A puzzling piece from 2002 about Darius McCollum, a man who is obsessed with the New York subway. McCollum knows every rule and procedure, every timetabled train, every station; problematically, though, his obsession also extends to lengthy spells impersonating workers on the train system, with stolen uniforms and forged permission letters. He does the job properly and to a high standard, but nevertheless is routinely arrested and has spent the better part of twenty years in jail for his crimes. The MTA, who run the subway, are reluctant to employ him for liability reasons – even though he’d likely be the best employee they have. Intriguing and dismaying. #
I’d never encountered a Hang before; it’s a musical instrument, two steel pans fused together that produces sound through Helmholtz resonance when tapped. (Helmholtz resonance is the same type of sound produced by blowing over the top of a glass bottle.) The sounds it produces are amazing: percussive but also melodic, impactful but also resonant and lingering.
This mesmerising duet between Hang players Danny Cudd and Markus Johansson – AKA the Hang Massive – is a great example of what it can do. #