All posts by Matias Masucci

Confidence and Consumerism

Is there a relationship between confidence and consumerism?

While watching Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, I first heard part of Jimmy Carter’s speech from July 15, 1979. This speech later came to be known as the Crisis of Confidence Speech. The documentary itself was not particularly well made. Even though most of the people in it discussed valuable ideas, the filmmakers made questionable creative choices. The inclusion of several Black Friday shopping madness videos, countless commercials segments, and footage of the rich and famous, only cluttered the viewer’s mind instead of driving the point home. The filmmakers missed the opportunity of making a minimalist documentary, with very little distractions and room for contemplation. Instead, they followed a standard format and piled one thing on top of the other. Pity. But I digress.

I’ve been struggling with the concept of minimalism since becoming a father and hoping to raise my little one less dependent on things than I am. In the past few years, I have done some considerable decluttering but I haven’t been able to stop the steady stream of things coming in. I have a few theories on why that is but I’ll save that for another time.

What caught my attention while reading the speech, was that the concept of over-consumerism was already part of America’s collective consciousness back in 1979. This came as a surprise to me, seeing how things ended up playing out in the average American household over the past thirty years.

A lot of Americans ended up disliking Carter and hailing Reagan as the second coming. I don’t have enough information to form an intelligent opinion on this. The aim of this article is simply to highlight some of the things I like about the speech.

Here we go:

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.

Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.

But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.

We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions.

This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose.

One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values.

Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.

In this speech, President Carter equates the lack of confidence in the future with self-indulgence and consumption.

I don’t know whether this was intentional or not but from a sociological standpoint, it warrants further examination.

Do we consume more when we have less confidence in the future?

Or to put it simpler, do we buy more when we are scared?

There a lot of conclusions that can be drawn from this but for now, I will leave my readers with this question:

If we buy more when we are scared, does a seller have a vested interest in keeping a buyer afraid of the future?

In Appreciation of Simplicity

“You have to be confident to dare to be simple” was the first line that got my attention in this very well-thought-out video from The School of Life.

The first example they use to support the claim is the pressure one may feel in a fancy restaurant to order something out of the ordinary or well… fancy. It has happened to me and probably to most of you out there. All you want is a greasy burger but the occasion calls for something “sophisticated”.

Why is that we may ask?

Being simple can make you vulnerable.

This is true for most of the choices we make, from our wardrobe to our favorite movies and books. We often choose what is popular or acceptable or “sophisticated” in favor of what we genuinely like.

But simplicity is really an achievement.

It certainly is. Simplicity stems in part from a state of “not having to impress others“.

This is especially important when a creative individual creates something not to impress but rather to facilitate evolution or further creation.

It follows from a hard-won clarity about what matters.

The art lies in concealing the art.

Dieter Rams, the subject of the video, chose to design products that improved people’s lives rather then design spectacular things to promote his own glory.

Such modesty stems from a lack on anxiety about being ignored.

We have almost a primordiale instinct to distinguish ourselves from others. In the animal kingdom, when it comes to procreation, standing out is often equated with survival. This isn’t always true in the world of design and function.

We complicate things because we want them to appear “interesting” and…

We don’t readily tell other people that we are a bit stupid.

We often conceal our confusion even to ourselves by complicating what is not complicated. The answer however lies in understanding our own confusion and designing things so they are simple and intuitive.

All the intensity, focus, high standards and the pursuit of integrity that is found in art can be brought into the realm of everyday design. And this is where it stands more of a chance of effecting people.

Here is the video:

Milwaukee’s Race for City Hall

Amidst one of the most divisive presidential primaries in recent history, the city of Milwaukee turns its eyes toward the exercise of democracy at the local level. This year’s mayoral election is gearing up to be as polarizing as what we have seen in the national landscape.

Today’s debate was hosted by the good people of the Public Policy Forum. The incumbent, Mayor Tom Barrett, faced the challenger, Alderman Bob Donovan, a 16-year veteran of the city’s Common Council. Opening remarks were done away with and the first question came before the small contingent of electors had fully settled. “What will your top three priorities be in your first one hundred days?

Mayor Barrett spoke about jobs, new developments and took the opportunity to bash the City of Chicago “for having to borrow $220 million to make its pension payments”. In contrast “his city” did not, thanks to “the strong fiscal stewardships we’ve had for the last 12 years”. As if Rahm Emanuel wasn’t having a hard enough time as it is, his counterpart in Milwaukee has chosen to throw him under the bus while seeking reelection.

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What I am Watching This Evening… YouTube.

YouTube can be a great educational tool. Here’s what I’ve stumbled upon this evening.

Nerdwriter1 talks about internet art and how machines perceive differently than we do.

Vox teaches us how the Oscar’s voting process ends up awarding bland movies. Incidentally, they use the film The King’s Speech as an example. A film I found to be extremely dull and devoid of any creative joy. It was one sterile set-up after another. It was not a bad movie, it was the perfect bland movie, carefully tailored to follow all the rules and not offend anyone (especially from a visual stand point). Watching it probably felt like reading one of those books written by a machine in George Orwell’s 1984. I stopped considering the Oscars a good gauge for quality a long time ago, the Vox video made sense.

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Dick Goes to Hollywood

It was the summer of ‘62, and Dick’s first time walking down Hollywood Boulevard. He had left San Francisco with a bitter taste in his mouth. ‘Too many beatniks’ he had told his live-in girlfriend one freezing summer evening. The next day he packed his bags and headed south for the resort town of Los Angeles. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable but when he stepped out of the Greyhound terminal into the LA summer air he felt like he had made the right choice.

Dick reached out to the few people he knew in town. He quickly learned the expression ‘Southern hospitality’ did not apply to Southern California. Fortunately, the Charles Dickens would have him. Truth be told, the Charles Dickens would have anyone brave enough to drag himself through the lobby doors. The room was small, making the bed very easy to find. He was exhausted, but the heat had other plans for him. The city came in through the open window loudly. For a moment he missed San Francisco, then he remembered the beatniks. His girlfriend, Rita, paid a visit to his mind next. She was probably sleeping through the cool night. He hated her. He hated her for being too selfish to quit her job, abandon her blind father, and follow him to the land of dreams. Most of all, he hated her because she was certainly sleeping with the window closed. He could never understand some people. The night came and went, hating this and that, and without major incidents. As the morning heat rose through the building, it became clear someone had committed suicide in the room next door. They did it quietly and respectfully, and if it wasn’t for the stench of rotting flesh the tortured soul might have gone unnoticed. The heat had no mercy for the living let alone the dead. But then again, for all he knew, the Charles Dickens always smelt that way. Escaping to the streets was the only sensible thing to do.

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Quotes From Zen in the Art of Archery

Selected quotes from Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.

The story goes something like this: Eugen Herrigel, a German teaching and living in Japan, set out to understand the meaning of Zen. Realizing it cannot be studied but only experienced, he decided to learn about it through the practice of one of the arts “touched” by Zen, Kyudo (Japanese archery). Out of his experiences came the book Zen in the Art of Archery.

This was one of the first book I read on the subject. Given the choices made by Herrigel later in life, it is unclear what he took away from these experiences.

As I understand it, talking about Zen has a tendency to confuse things. What makes this a worthwhile read is not the author’s interpretation of what Zen actually is (or is not) but rather the fact that it is one of the earliest books to expose the Western public to Zen. It spawned a century of speculation and countless books on the subject.

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Nietzsche’s Super-Human Explained

After reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra years ago,  I felt that Nietzsche had been greatly misunderstood by some . In a few cases, the concept of the Übermensch or Super-human (Overhuman, Superman etc.) has been misappropriated to justify wickedness.

Recently I stumbled upon a video that provides a very simple interpretation of this idea.

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Clear Skies

Sooner or later everyone misses the rain. It just happens. You wake up one day alone in a strange town you’ve been living in for the past twenty years and are certain you don’t belong. The problem with the sun is that it makes it difficult to hide from others and yourself. I checked to see if the bag was still under the bed. It was. It wasn’t a dream. I pulled it out and stared at all that cash. It represented the dreams and aspirations of decent people I no longer cared for.

Clear skies. Waiting for darkness was not an option. I threw a few things on top of the money and headed out of town. Once the parking meters were no longer lining the sidewalk I knew I’d be in the clear, at least for a few hours. Rural America came up on me quick. I felt remorse for the smiles I had shared with the good people of the Clarkson Farmers Savings & Loans. It was only a matter of time before they would discover their colleague was a crook.

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Amazon Storywriter: Free Cloud-based Screenplay Writing “Software”

I took my first steps in the world of screenwriting back in 2001 using Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000. Later I switched to Final Draft and remained a happy camper until 2013…

Enter the amazing Google Chromebook!

It didn’t take me long after getting my Chromebook from Amazon for around $300 to fall in love with it.  In many ways, it felt like it represented the future of computing. A world where everything is in the clouds and hardware is only used to interpret information.

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