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Posts tagged unintended consequences

Andy:
from "The Declaration: History has a sense of humor," by William Easterly, Aid Watch, 4 July 2010

The man who wrote it owned other human beings. The rich Anglo-Saxon males who signed it believed themselves superior to women, Catholics, Jews, other Europeans, Native Americans, blacks, Asians, and poor white males. It contained no development strategy, no announced intention for poverty reduction, and no nation-building Power Point presentation. For many decades afterward, anyone who took it literally would have been seen as crazy.

Yet the principles the Declaration gave in two sentences have done more than anything else for both liberty and development in the 234 years since that day.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Happy birthday, Declaration, and thank you.

Nate:

La Familia is a notorious drug cartel founded in 2006 in Michoacan, Mexico, and is known for its brutal slayings of detractors.

Mexican authorities have issued a report on the group, which includes the finding that Eldredge’s 2001 book, ”Wild at Heart,” is required reading for gang members. Spanish translations of the book have been discoverd in La Familia residences by police authorities conducting raids, McClatchy Newspapers reports.

Eldredge leads Ransomed Heart, a Springs ministry dedicated to helping men regain their masculinity and become adventurers in life. In “Wild at Heart,” he writes approvingly of men’s innate love of weapons, combat and hunting.

Andy:
from "Why I Returned My iPad," by Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review, 16 June 2010 :: via Ted Olsen

The brilliance of the iPad is that it's the anytime-anywhere computer. On the subway. In the hall waiting for the elevator. In a car on the way to the airport. Any free moment becomes a potential iPad moment.

The iPhone can do roughly the same thing, but not exactly. Who wants to watch a movie in bed on an iPhone?

So why is this a problem? It sounds like I was super-productive. Every extra minute, I was either producing or consuming.

But something — more than just sleep, though that's critical too — is lost in the busyness. Something too valuable to lose.

Boredom.

Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that's where creativity arises.

My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive. When I am running but not listening to my iPod. When I am sitting, doing nothing, waiting for someone. When I am lying in bed as my mind wanders before falling to sleep. These "wasted" moments, moments not filled with anything in particular, are vital.

They are the moments in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots. They're the moments in which we talk to ourselves. And listen.

To lose those moments, to replace them with tasks and efficiency, is a mistake. What's worse is that we don't just lose them. We actively throw them away.

Nate:
from "It's the Trees," by Geoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOG, 11 April 2010

One of the most memorable posts on Pruned, I think, was written way back in September 2005, when Alex took a look at what he called "litter-free landscapes and the politics of pollen." He quoted horticulturalist Thomas Leo Ogren at length:

In our urban landscapes we now have the most manipulated kind of city forest ever seen. In the past twenty years landscapers have grown inordinately fond of using male trees. In dioecious species (separate-sexed) there are separate male trees and separate female ones. Female trees and shrubs do not produce any pollen, ever, but they do produce messy seeds, fruits, old flowers, and seedpods. Landscapers and city arborists consider this female byproduct to be "litter", and they don’t like to see it lying on our sidewalks.

In other words, urban landscapers over-utilize pollen-intensive plantlife—which, in turn, wildly amplifies seasonal allergies. What if you didn't need more boxes of Claritin, then—you need a more informed city parks department?

Andy:
from "Ogori Cafe: Service With a Surprise," from PSFK, 5 October 2009 :: via Jared Mackey (thanks!)

Located inside the Urban Design Center Kashiwa-no-ha, the Ogori cafe looks innocuous enough, but holds a surprise in store for its patrons. In a nutshell, you get what the person before you ordered, and the next person gets what you ordered. Thus, if you’re in on the game, you can choose to be either a generous benefactor, and treat those that come after you – or try your luck at being cheap. Either way, it’s an interesting experiment that explores surprise, kindness and encourages interactions. . . .

[Caleb Stasser explains:] "As I sat down to enjoy my surprise Appletizer, loving this insane idea and wondering what would happen if you tried it in America, a Japanese woman approached the cafe. Since she could actually speak Japanese, she could read the large sign at the front and, fortunately or unfortunately, got advanced warning of what she was in for. Before making a final decision on what to order, she quietly snuck up to me to try to ask me what I had ordered, knowing that it would be her unwavering refreshment destiny. The staff put a quick stop to her trickery, and I didn’t answer.

"Of course, regardless of what she ordered, she got the orange juice I ordered a few minutes earlier. But here’s one of the moments that make this experiment cool: she actually chose orange juice, just like I did. So she got what she wanted. Ogori cafe synchronicity!"

Andy:

Oddly enough, the composer of the tune we associate with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” did not intend it for such a sacred use. In fact, he specifically noted that this song should not be used for anything having to do with God.

In 1840, Felix Mendelssohn wrote a song for the Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, Germany. His “Festgesang” celebrated the invention of movable type and printing some 400 years earlier. Mendelssohn recognized the potential popularity of his tune, and advised his publisher concerning its potential use. According to Mendelssohn, in a letter to Mr. E. Buxton, if the right words were written for his song,

I am sure that piece will be liked very much by the singers and the hearers, but it will never do to sacred words. There must be a national and merry subject found out, something to which the soldier-like and buxom motion of the motion of the piece has some relation, and the words must express something gay and popular, as the music tries to do. (The Musical Times, Vol 38).

. . . . But in 1855, William H. Cummings, the organist at Waltham Abbey in England, who later became a leading English musician, adapted Mendelssohn’s “Festgesang” to the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Previously, this piece had been sung to different tunes. Originally, it was sung to the tune EASTER HYMN, which we use for “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” (or “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”), another of Charles Wesley’s hymns. But when Cummings’ version was published, it quickly became the standard tune for the carol. Soon it was being sung with this tune, not only in England, but also in the United States as well.

So, by the late 18th century, the lyrics that the original writer, Charles Wesley, rejected were being sung to a tune that the composer said should never be used for sacred music. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is, indeed, the carol that shouldn’t exist.

Andy:
from "Trapped in cubicles," by Julie Schlosser, FORTUNE, 22 March 2006 :: via The .Plan - A Quasi-Blog

Another critical factor in the cubicle's rapid ascent was Uncle Sam. During the 1960s, to stimulate business spending, the Treasury created new rules for depreciating assets. The changes specified clearer ranges for depreciation and established a shorter life for furniture and equipment, vs. longer ranges assigned to buildings or leasehold improvements. (Today companies can depreciate office furniture in seven years, whereas permanent structures--that is, offices with walls--are assigned a 39.5-year rate.)

The upshot: A company could recover its costs quicker if it purchased cubes. When clients told Herman Miller of that unexpected benefit, it became a new selling point for the Action Office. After only two years on the market, sales soared. Competitors took notice.

That's when Propst's original vision began to fade. "They kept shrinking the Action Office until it became a cubicle," says Schwartz, now 80. As Steelcase, Knoll, and Haworth brought their versions to market, they figured out that what businesses wanted wasn't to give employees a holistic experience. The customers wanted a cheap way to pack workers in.

Propst's workstations were designed to be flexible, but in practice they were seldom altered or moved at all. Lined up in identical rows, they became the dystopian world that three academics described as "bright satanic offices" in a 1998 book, Workplaces of the Future.

Designer Douglas Ball, for instance, remembers the first installation of cubicles he created for a Canadian company in 1972. "I thought I'd be excited, but I came out depressed," says Ball, now 70. "It was Dilbertville. I'd failed to visualize what it would look like when there were so many of them."

excerpt Blue law blues
Nate:
from "The Past as Peep Show," by Susan Dominus, The New York Times, 3 April 2009 :: via Freakonomics

When it comes to illicit media, the agents for good and evil, even outside New York, are always symbiotic: pornography, in the experience of many moral crusaders, is like an infuriating weed that loves nothing more than a good pesticide, its strength only enhanced by efforts to tamp it down. But Long also chronicles the way that initiatives to eradicate vice only helped pave the way for its further evolution in the city. Try to eliminate drinking on Sunday by limiting it to hotels, as did the Raines Law of 1896, and suddenly every bar and saloon in Manhattan is putting up cheap dividers to create makeshift accommodations, ideal breeding grounds for prostitution, which thrived in the era of the so-called Raines Law hotels. Try to provide a place where working-class men can find a bathroom that isn’t in a bar, and from that solution — public restrooms — will come another challenge: gay (semipublic) sex.

Andy:

“If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

Andy:
from "Pieties and Pixels," by Glenn Arbery, FIRST THINGS: On the Square, 27 February 2009

[Wedding guests who double as amateur photographers] do not see themselves as intruding upon the event, but as absenting themselves from it in order to bestow the gift of . . . precious memories (which always requires the foreboding ellipsis). They sacrifice their ordinary presence at the mere wedding to become a selfless, invisible recording eye, as though they occupied some interstitial space between the sacred, but still physical one of the church and—what, exactly? The not-yet-embodied future? It strikes me that they think they are made angels by the camera, observers unobserved.

But there they were, still in their bodies, perfectly visible to everyone.

And who in the world were they? My wife told me later that she stopped the one on the side aisle by catching his eye, shaking her head, and fiercely mouthing the word No. Crestfallen, he retreated. The other one, however, a young woman, angled across the front of the church in front of the pulpit, went through the entrance to the sacristy, and emerged behind a carved wooden grate where she stationed herself for the next half-hour intermittently flashing away like an expert sniper at the bride and groom.

Andy:
from "A picture is no longer worth a thousand words," by Farhad Manjoo, Salon.com, 22 April 2004 :: via The .Plan

There was a time when photographs were synonymous with truth—when you could be sure that what you saw in a picture actually occurred. In today’s Photoshop world, all that has changed. Pictures are endlessly pliable. Photographs (and even videos) are now merely as good as words—approximations of reality at best, subtle (or outright) distortions of truth at worst. Is that Jane Fonda next to John Kerry at an antiwar rally? No, it isn’t; if you thought so, you’re a fool for trusting your own eyes.

Some photographers welcome the new skepticism toward images; it’s good that people are learning not to automatically believe what they see, they say. But many fear that we’re losing an important foothold on reality. Without trustworthy photographs, how will we ever know what in our world is real?

Andy:

The way we worship, the kinds of things we look at, the habits that are enforced, the way we sit, the structure of passivity, the anonymity, the filing in and out by the thousands at a specific time, the parking lot attendants rushing you out the maze: we see all of this as training the people into being in relation to God and each other in a certain way. Therefore, to attract large amounts of people into one room, and offer a directed performance of worship from the front, trains people to be passivized, observers and consumers of Christianity. And it counteracts everything of what it means to be the church for missional thinkers and practitioners.

Missional types see the very life lived between three or more people as that which reveals Christ’s forgiveness, reconciliation and the gospel looks like. It is the social-linguistic context that makes possible the communication of the gospel to post Christendom people who have no context to understand the gospel at all. Attractional mega churches attract, appeal to a need, provide an attractive package and by their sheer numbers work against this kind of community that makes possible this kind of encountering of the gospel. Sure it is still possible to split people into smaller groups, but the sheer formative power of the large attractional gathering trains the habits of every believer into self selecting a comfortable community for other purposes other than mission.

Nate:
gendersite.org

The women took issue with mainstream UK initiatives to ‘design out crime’ in their dislike of the surveillance culture and technology promoted in the name of community safety.  This government-promoted approach includes felling trees to ensure clear sightlines for CCTV cameras,  erecting railings around steps and public monuments where people like to linger and chat, covering public spaces with ugly signage prohibiting everyday activities,  or installing “mosquitos” (high-pitched sounds) to deter young people from congregating in the street.

The very presence of CCTV made women feel that an area must be unsafe.  Although many wanted to see more uniformed people in public spaces, they preferred the sight of park wardens, bus conductors, and toilet attendants rather than police.  Fenced-off areas and barriers made them feel trapped. Security guards, overseeing privatized public spaces, were also seen as a problem - concerned primarily with the profitability of the enterprise, and not the well-being of the visitor.

The factor that contributed most highly to women’s sense of safety was ‘a variety of/ lots of other people about’; often they would add ‘smiling people’, ‘happy people’, ‘the sound of children laughing’. WDS therefore does not support the current mainstream approach to community safety. Designers and decision-makers need to think more about how to attract a wide range of different people to come and enjoy themselves in the public spaces of towns and cities.  One way of achieving this is simply through making such places beautiful - a concept rarely discussed in the context of safety. It is this quality above all which will draw people out of their homes and cars to occupy and enjoy a sense of well-being in public urban space.

Andy:

Armchair philosophers sometimes defend the purity of “Science” by distinguishing it from technology or applied science, a move resembling hip America’s affection for the idea of soccer, but not the game itself. Separate scientists from tools and applications, and what’s left? A feeble enterprise, a succession of conjectures.

When applied, science sometimes delivers but always—always—graces humanity with unexpected consequences. Nothing infuriates my literature and medicine students as much as Wendell Berry’s observation that “medicine is an exact science until applied,” and nothing they learn in their four years of medical school is more urgent and more true.

Andy:
from The End of White Flight, by Conor Dougherty, WSJ.com, 19 July 2008

Today, cities are refashioning themselves as trendy centers devoid of suburban ills like strip malls and long commutes. In Atlanta, which has among the longest commute times of any U.S. city, the white population rose by 26,000 between 2000 and 2006, while the black population decreased by 8,900. Overall the white proportion has increased to 35% in 2006 from 31% in 2000.

In other cities, whites are still leaving, but more blacks are moving out. Boston lost about 6,000 black residents between 2000 and 2006, but only about 3,000 whites. In 2006, whites accounted for 50.2% of the city’s population, up from 49.5% in 2000. That’s the first increase in roughly a century.

a Boing Boing post by David Pescovitz, 11 June 2008

We’ve posted previously about the turfwars that can develop between pets and home robots. Today’s Wall Street Journal surveys the battleground in a feature titled “When Dogs and Robots Collide, Somebody Needs A Talking To.” From the WSJ:

According to Daphna Nachminovitch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, introducing robots into a pet household should be done with care. “There’s no way to explain to them that this is not a threat,” she says…

Sympathetic owners sometimes just retire their new purchases. In other cases, the pets take matters into their own paws. Peter Haney, a university administrator in Lethbridge, Alberta, twice found his Roomba in pieces after letting it clean while his flat-coated retrievers, Macleod and Tima, had the run of the house. “No one is talking,” he says…

“It comes up constantly,” says Nancy Dussault Smith, a spokeswoman for iRobot Corp., in Bedford, Mass., which makes the Roomba. “Dogs, cats, all animals, they have their own personalities, so they all react differently to the robots.”

IRobot tested its Roomba designs with pets, she added, incorporating safety measures in the motorized disc-shaped cleaner such as automatic deactivation when it is flipped over or sat on.