Daily Rumination No. 12: Je suis KmÀrt

The concepts of petit bourgeois and materialism are nothing new. In a country like Australia, where ideas like multiculturalism and diversity (of people and thought) are discussed frequently, it’s amusing to me that people still aim generally for the same trends, styles, possessions and ideals.

This thought came to my mind today as I was reading Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety. On page 40 of the book, de Botton quotes George Orwell in his 1941 publication The Lion and the Unicorn:

‘To an increasing extent the rich and the poor read the same books, and they also see the same films and listen to the same radio programmes. The differences in their way of life have been diminished by the mass-production of cheap clothes and improvements in housing… In those vast new wildernesses of glass and brick, there is a rather restless, culture-less life, centring round tinned food, Picture Post, the radio and the internal combustion engine.’

Today, the objects of mainstream materialist desire are quite different, although the desire is virtually the same. In the place of the radio and the internal combustion engine, we now see digital technologies and trends as cool. Many people ‘need’ to have the latest, most expensive iPhone, which facilitates amazing, creative and technical applications—yet most people just use theirs for Instagram. Even then, with such an impressive camera module, people still manage to take and post rubbish photos. You can achieve that on an Android handset that costs much less but of course, there’s no brand prestige there.

The bit that stood out to me about Orwell’s quote was his reference to cheap clothes. Somehow, cheap clothing has been rebranded as desirable and fashionable, even with collective knowledge of the suffering that its makers endure, perhaps sometimes worse than in the technological supply chain.

Circling back to Australia’s own brand of petit bourgeois, we can even see the integration of literal Frenchness into nationwide idioms and advertising terms. The retail chain Target is no longer just Target; it has been pronounced both mockingly and seriously as Targét with a silent ‘t’ for some time. Even one of the brand’s advertising campaigns adopted this pronunciation to relate to Australian consumers. It worked a treat and everyone was talking about it.

Wesfarmers owns Target in Australia and also operates Kmart, which has generally been seen as the more budget-angled alternative. With recent aggressive TV advertising, however, I would argue that they are using the same fun, aspirational middle-class-focused strategy to turn Kmart into a brand with its own silent ‘t’: KmÀrt.

In the spirit of truly European (and particularly French) chic, disposable, petit bourgeous clothing and ornaments are increasingly noticeable throughout the shop. Whenever I visit KmÀrt with my wife, Natasha, typically on a trip for stationery, I spot things like this…

Yep, that’s a brilliant artwork. Also, it looks great next to the golden lamp.

Rightio, hello to you as well.

‘Very pretty’ and ‘pretty’? Is this a comment that the French are prettier than the Spanish, or are people meant to grade themselves prior to purchase and select the top that best matches their own physical appearance?

All of this stuff is just plain tacky. With regard to the big print of the woman, I am by no means a snob when it comes to art; I have purchased prints from Ikea and don’t believe that expense always correlates with quality. Opening a debate on art is certainly not my intention but surely you could find something more genuine or interesting to put in your home than this.

What I find concerning is the way that people mindlessly scoop up such items, using them to project false styles and realities that match their constructed realities on Instagram. In people’s relentless efforts to stand out, they end up all heading to the same retail chains.

In an increasingly globalised society, I know that it’s sometimes difficult to avoid shopping at the exactly the same places, eating similar food and sharing familiar ideas online. This piece certainly isn’t the first ever to discuss consumerism. I’m just asking that people think about the meaning behind their decisions, consider the value of difference and at least occasionally aim for something a little radical: be satisfied.

Daily Rumination No. 11: iPhone Feng Shui

Nerds seem to be in a permanent state of restlessness when it comes to iPhone home screens and I’m no exception. As the most personal device that we own (besides Apple Watch, of course), the iPhone is a kind of expression for our identities.

How do you organise your screen? Should icons be arranged alphabetically, by colour or by category?

How do you feel about custom icons for third-party apps?

What is your attitude to folders?

Should you use the stock Podcasts app or a third-party one?

Wallpaper or no wallpaper?

Full grid or spaces left over?

Do you shun icons with white backgrounds or borders?

You could go on forever with such questions. The only thing that’s for certain is that the arrangement will change again, in favour of different styles or new apps. I’m forever tweaking and moving things based on what I think looks the best, is most accessible for my thumb or in whatever way I think will influence healthy smartphone usage. Remove social media apps to abstain or leave them to challenge my will power?

I can seriously go back through my iCloud Photo Library and see old screenshots of how my iPhone’s home screen once looked. It’s amusing to see what was important at the time, how the icons have changed and how our screen resolutions have exploded.

So, for the purposes of history and my own personal amusement when I end up changing everything again next week, here is my current home screen…

I’ve opted for no wallpaper, as I like the way that the original iPhone look makes the icons pop. Also, whilst I once questioned the use of websites added as icons to the springboard, it is quite nice to jump straight into a preferred blog or news service without having to browse another menu or set of bookmarks.

Let’s see how long mine lasts this way…

Now ask yourself: if you’re not constantly rearranging your home screen for optimum usability and virtual attractiveness, are you really living?

Daily Rumination No. 10: Teeming with Issues

In many ways, it’s easier to work now than ever before, particularly if you’re out of the office. We’re spoilt with increasingly diverse and customisable devices and powerful, digital communication channels such as iMessage, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Slack and so on.

The same way that email and other apps were supposed to lead to the utopian paperless office (yeah, not sure about that), these new channels were supposed to replace email. That hasn’t really happened either, at least not yet.

At work, I use Microsoft 365 with my colleagues to ensure that all of our shared files and conversations are kept in sync. Although I’ve always been a Mac zealot, I’ve generally been impressed with the way that Microsoft has tied together Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Skype into a comprehensive online suite that works on a range of platforms. You can open things just about anywhere.

The really useful element, however, is Microsoft Teams. As a kind of front-end for SharePoint, this desktop and mobile app offers a space for team collaboration and discussion, one-on-one and group chats and also file browsing and editing. It really is a compelling replacement for email in an internal setting, as you can send links in chats to various documents and leave comments within the file system, rather than sending multiple versions back and forth as attachments.

Still, Microsoft lacks taste and common sense in its design when it comes to the file system interface. I hear numerous Apple-focused podcasters complain about the Files app on iOS but really, that feels like a considered piece of art when contrasted with Teams.

Here’s a screenshot of a file list in Teams…

Other than a column that shows the names of the creators, which I have cropped out, this is what you get in the app when you want to browse files. There is no image-preview function like Quick Look in macOS, there is no way to change the list view to an icon or thumbnail and rather than display thumbnails next to each file, you are presented with a useless, generic icon that reminds you that they’re pictures. Thanks, scoop.

In addition, if you click or tap on a file in the list, it fills the screen with the image but does not support arrow-key or swipe input to flick between files. The process is simply to open then exit, open then exit.

There isn’t even multiple-window support on the desktop! You can’t open chat, teams or file views as separate spaces to work on more than one of these interfaces at once. If this is supposed to be the way that you collaborate with your team on a daily basis, they’ve made it as narrow as possible, so that multitasking is almost unfeasible.

Arguably, whilst Teams is the same for macOS, using this file system is arguably much better on a Mac, away from the app. Whilst the saving and synchronising of files is unreliable when integrated in the Windows Explorer, it’s super-easy to include it in the Mac’s Finder. Once added, almost like you would with iCloud Drive or Dropbox, the SharePoint folder can even be added as a folder or stack to the dock, connecting to the system and opening all files in their relevant apps, with autosaving on by default.

I find it utterly baffling that Microsoft continues to offer a better experience on platforms like iOS and macOS than it does on Windows. I’m not sure of the exact cause, however, I believe that macOS as a system is simply more reliable and facilitates a smoother, more integrated experience for third parties as well.