meeting in a premium mediocre space

Premium mediocre

There’s a phrase that I keep coming back to when I’m spending time with people; premium mediocre. It’s was brought back to front-of-mind by a friend, originally attributed to this long, mildly sweary article from 2017 which – on re-reading – starts out talking about the features of mid-range dining options, but is much more of a deep-dive into the purpose of life for millennials, parental aspirations for their children, and the financial stability of different lifestyles.

And there I was thinking it was just about the over-the-top decor at some of the places I have visited recently. Looking around at a more sophisticated online “cafe recommendation” system than existed ten years ago – when I was still writing my hundreds of reviews – it’s more difficult to generate the enthusiasm to write a review of a cafe. 

While I still appreciate a well-made cup of coffee, and my standards for such a cup of coffee are higher than most, it’s increasingly the details of the venue (ambience, noise levels, suitability for conversation, overall price and fussiness of coffee presentation) as the venue is now more the context for the conversation than an end in itself.

When I need to have a difficult conversations with someone, or try and work productively, the issue is not so much where a venue appears on the social hierarchy (though it often needs to be a factor), but whether it helps achieve the aims of the meet-up. It’s not the cup of coffee (here today and gone tomorrow) but the outcome of the conversation (with a person who will – depending on whether we share a faith-shaped worldview – live forever or at least outlive the coffee) that’s the most important.

Is the person I’m meeting with going to be distracted by the venue? Then it’s time to dial it up, or down, away from the premium mediocre setting.

early mornings

Even as I’m struggling to find the hours to spend asleep; hours that I know will help me function better with the next day, and all it may throw in my general direction, there’s something great about watching the sky change colour in the mornings.

A friend and I – who used to live in the same suburb and so walk together – manage an irregular catch-up by phone early on a Saturday morning. With the cold weather, I’ve taken to starting out by driving somewhere, then walking in a different location to the familiar path we used to tread together.

Early morning joggers and walkers – having themselves given in to the siren song of technology – don’t even bat an eyelid as I walk along talking into my Airpods and continuing a wide-ranging conversation.

It’s a practice that fits my continued tendency toward multi-tasking. It’s not enough just to walk and take in nature, there needs to be some other additional task mixed in to redeem the time somehow.

Multitasking has already been a long-term pursuit: when I check Overcast, it tells me that “Smart Speed” (functionality to skip automatically over any silences in that podcast I’m already playing back at double speed or more) has saved me an extra 387 hours beyond speed adjustments alone.

Am I missing out on something valuable by going so fast? Perhaps. Is the goal to experience each podcast at the speed it was recorded? To take in some more of the world’s vast store of information? to stay current on a broad range of topics? To make better decisions by having more information?

Or is this whole obsession with extra information just a distraction from what’s important?

The real change that I’m looking for – how I’m hoping to leverage the benefits of this extra time spent sleeping – is greater concentration on the people to whom I’m talking and listening.

It’s the conversations with people – two eternal creatures spending a slice of their finite earth-bound time together – where I want to make a difference, and not be dragged back to the endless hum of the social media machine, or the roar of the inbox, or the short-term adrenaline rush of the to-do list.

Buy now and pay later – Whitlams 25th anniversary tour

Whitlams at the Metro Theatre

It had been a long time since I’d seen any live music outside a church or camp/conference context, so it was a trip down memory lane to be back at the Metro theatre in the Sydney CBD. An acute reminder of how old I am now, though. Doors opened at 7:30pm, then we were watching the first support act – Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier, from 8pm. Powerful voice, great bluegrass musical stylings, and lots to think about in the lyrics. Then at 9pm, Alex Lloyd was on stage, playing a great set, seated the whole time and playing an acoustic guitar: there was even a bit of audience participation.

So it wasn’t until 10pm that the Whitlams were on stage. The lighting was really great, the atmosphere electric – a room full of people wanting to see a band that was important to them sometime in the last 25 years, and a lot of people singing along to a lot of songs. There was even one song – Charlie #2 – where the audience did the singing, and (vocalist and piano player) Tim Freedman sang the harmony.

A few reflections on watching the band play.

  • It’s been so long since the songs came out that the demographics have changed. “She was one in a million, so there’s 5 more just in New South Wales” (it’s now 7.5 million)
  • Even with so many familiar songs, there were other Whitlams songs among my favourites that weren’t played!
  • As much as “blow up the pokies” is a great, catchy song, it has made no difference to the sad state of gambling in Australia
  • There’s a gap in the lives of non-churchgoing people for public singing; even with no lyrics up, there was huge participation in the room
  • Listening back to the songs of my university days – the time when my thoughts were occupied with the hope of being married one day – but now out at a concert with my wife; it was a prompt to be grateful, and reconfigured that song in my memory for gratitude.
  • Even in his 50’s, Tim Freedman is angry about what has changed about the nightlife of Sydney; encouraging concert-goers at the end of the night to take the train to Badgerys Creek and fly to Melbourne, where they could still find a place that was open.

Perhaps I’m too old now for concerts in the city, but as much as I enjoyed the concert, and I did, it was just too late at night for me.

hyperlinking from one idea to another

I’ve just finished up a uni subject so I have a little more time to devote to the backlog of other projects that have been too quiet.

One of my uni friends referred me to the already gangbusters This is America music video. There are a bunch of reasons you wouldn’t want a child or teenager to watch this one, but with that caveat, it makes a number of points in a profound way that makes the most of the medium.

Having watched the video, I immediately wanted to read everything I could about it, to try and understand the underlying messages and references. And I wanted to share it with Kel. Somehow I managed to share it without explaining that it was a music video, and so she was trying to process it as a movie trailer, which made the visuals even harder to follow.

While at the time I was reading articles to try and understand things, increasingly the way to explain something is to turn to a video explanation instead.

One article I saw this evening was from (American Christian periodical) Relevant Magazine – Why Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Is a Prophetic Message We Can’t Ignore, but I was pulled out of that article (spending time explaining why saying something is prophetic doesn’t mean you agree with it) because of something I’ve never seen before in a Christian publication.

I understand that times are tough for publishing houses, but if you’re going to make a pull-quote that’s a Bible verse, or a series of them, do you really want to embed ads in there? Here’s a screen grab (I first saw it on mobile, but it’s on the desktop layout as well… it looks like it’s only for particularly long quotes.

Bible verses with built-in display ad

So that’s me going from a conversation with my uni friends to a music video to a commentary about the music video to a Bible verse to a display ad. Quite a journey, but not such a long way to go in our hyperlinked life!

The great strength of the internet is the ability to link from one idea to another, and to treat all types of content as equal, but do we still have the capacity to recognise where that is becoming a problem?

lessons learned from some time offline

Today was the last day of a short holiday, where we spent some time away from home, and away from pervasive internet access. It was really good to have the break, and see what a difference it would make to the way we relate together as a family. It feels like there’s lots to catch up on (I skimmed through over 700 things in my feed reader today), but it was helpful to have a perspective on how much my smartphone is driving my consumption habits, rather than the other way around.

I’m hoping to reflect on it further: much harder to do so with easy access to mobile internet.

rather die than change

Around ten years ago I read an article on heart attack survivors that proved people would rather die than change – given simple lifestyle changes to make, that would literally save them from having another, this time fatal, attack, the majority of people were unwilling or unable to make the change.

Changing (especially after a certain age) is tough.

I was talking to a friend about our respective social media intake. Lately I’ve found myself spending more time sourcing articles to read from Facebook, going beyond what I need to look through for work, flicking through in search of the latest fix of information. It quickly becomes a habit, and a tough one to break. Such is the genius of Facebook at some level: giving a gamified cookie to the people who continue to scroll through, like and comment on things, helping Facebook sell more ads.

While there is the occasional exception, and something of more significance will filter through, it can be tough to change gears from soaking up the shallows of the average social media post, to reading something longer and more in-depth.

My friend talked about the need to deliberately curate what goes into your mind. Instead of listening to the (unhelpful, or at best unexamined) habits that you’ve picked up, and doing what they say when choosing what goes into your mind, spend some time thinking carefully about what you want to be thinking about.

On the rare occasion when you bump into a friend who you haven’t seen in a while, will you have anything to say to them? Or will their Facebook feed have taken the place of small-talk, leaving you less connected than you might have been.

There are a number of risks with a sustained social media diet. Taking time to think about what it is you want to be thinking about, rather than always chasing bite-sized bits of new information. It will see you in a better frame of mind, and will pay dividends in years’ time that an unexamined consumption of everything you see.

Bedtime stories

One of the joys of reading bedtime stories is, through repetition, seeing the evolving ways the kids interact with stories. Tonight we read The tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, a story about a good natured but simple duck who is (spoilers) unaware that her fox landlord is preparing to roast her for dinner. 

The story is written in such a way that a very young child only notices what the duck does – even as the narrator points out the culinary implications of the fox-provided shopping list. As the kids get bigger, they can see what is going on a little more clearly, though still with a wonderfully innocent take. “Where did the fox go? Did the dogs just chase him away? Will he be back?”

There is much to learn about storytelling from the classics. 

Customer service

I had another reminder of the gap between my own understanding of what constitutes a simple user experience, and what a less-savvy computer user might deem simple.

We still have a long way to go, but I’m continuing to learn. 

When helping someone use a computer, as in many things, listening is more important than talking. If one person can tell you their mental. Ideal of a proces, it’s a safe bet that others will have the same way of looking at things. 

humans are the future of wearables

I was chatting about technology and futurism today, and the topic of Google Glass arose. Google Glass makes a little more sense in the context of the Apple Watch – two different technologies (I’ve used neither one, so take all of this with a grain of salt).

The difference? Glass attempts to sit in between the interaction two people are having. Watch attempts to interrupt as discreetly as possible, and then let the interaction recommence.

For wearables to improve the communication that is taking place between two people, they need to be able to recede. Communication technology – at its best – is about facilitating the human interaction, not replacing or subverting it.