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.

The Paris Review: ‘Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction’

Whilst scrolling through Twitterrific on my iPhone recently, I stumbled upon the article Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction by Mairead Small Staid. The article is fantastic.

Based on Sven Birkerts’ work The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, the article details the ways in which long- and short-form writing (i.e. print vs. digital) not only affect the way that we read but also how we understand ourselves and the passing of time. As a person who works in digital communications, I certainly feel the inner conflict of having to engage with lots of short-form content but often wishing to sit down with a longer text like a book.

One part of Staid’s article particularly resonated with me:

I was born in 1988, two years before the development of HTML. I didn’t have a computer at home until middle school, didn’t have a cell phone until I was eighteen. I remember the pained beeping of a dial-up connection, if only faintly. Facebook launched as I finished up high school, and Twitter as I entered college. The golden hours of my childhood aligned perfectly with the fading light of a pre-internet world; I know intimately that such a world existed, and had its advantages.

Whilst I am a few years younger than Staid, I feel like my childhood also fell into a kind of in-between period. I was born in 1992 and my first computer was my family’s Power Macintosh, so I was born and raised in a time when the Internet was certainly present. I also remember the agony of waiting for webpages to load, with the dial-up modem blinking frantically in the corner.

There was no computer in my pocket or on my wrist; the only computer to which I had regular access was on a desk in the study. This highly specific physical context for computer use afforded time for me to explore other things and most importantly, read books.

Last year, I deleted my Facebook account, shut down other profiles, reduced the number of people whom I follow on Twitter and committed to writing and reading longer texts more often. This includes reading books and making an effort to maintain my Daily Ruminations here on Lounge Ruminator. They’re not super-long but they are certainly wordier than normal social media posts.

When I look at my own use of devices, I feel motivated to limit it because I remember a time when reading a computer was kind of like reading a book—you had to go to a different room and set the time aside from others.

If we want to declutter our digital lives and pick up a book, we need to do this consciously. Screen Time in iOS 12 is a great tool for this and if used properly, it can inform you about how you’re using apps and services and whether you need to cut back.

I love my iPhone and Apple Watch but I have significantly reduced the number of app notifications that I can receive. This has made a difference and I plan to continue improving my digital habits.

Daily Rumination No. 9: A Fresh Cup of #Caffeinespiration

Do you like coffee? I do. I wrote about it recently and the topic has already returned today. This time, it’s not about people’s love for instant coffee but the clichéd and mundane efforts that café owners undertake to decorate their establishments and create some sort of story about coffee.

Some time ago, café owners started displaying posters in their establishments that mock how dependent their customers are on caffeine. No doubt you’ve seen them before; they often look something like this…

The third image is the one that I’ve seen the most at various cafés. It’s kind of strange that we have come to accept these retro images as common memes in the physical world, simultaneously laughing with and at us as we waste our money daily on over-priced bean juice mixed with milk.

Someone clearly missed the memo on this style, however, as I spotted recently at a hotel while I was away for work. Check out the following image from the hotel’s café/restaurant.

I’m hoping that a staff member just made this quickly at home and didn’t pay any money for it. It isn’t funny and it was there each morning that I went for breakfast and coffee. It wasn’t a quote of the day; it was a permanent installation.

Along with my recent rumination into Australia’s overwhelming preference for instant coffee, this common display of useless #caffeinspirational quotes also suggests that we Australians are quite lacking in taste. It’s bourgeois in the extreme.

Surely there are some Australian café owners out there who are above this.

Daily Rumination No. 8: The Sad State of TV

I don’t watch traditional broadcast television very much anymore. Unless you’re talking about government-run channels like ABC and SBS, which show an interesting mix of multicultural programmes and news with great on-demand options, I’m not interested.

Naturally, the convenience of the Internet TV is a cause, however it’s also the fact that traditional TV has become progressively worse. Commercial stations are rubbish. Not only are there more reality shows than ever before—Married at First Sight is simply the worst—but advertisements are louder and more numerous and their news programmes have continued to pour in more sensationalism and infotainment. There seems to be a lot less quality control and a whole lot more laziness.

On the topic of rubbish commercial TV, whilst waiting for my flight at the airport, I looked up at the wall-mounted display and saw this…

What the Hell is this? Channel 9 has always had grotesquely large logos and crawlers, but in this case they went totally overboard with morning show Studio 10. Parts of the text are obscured and both the programme’s and channel’s logos are oversized. (If you look closely, you can also see the iTV logo at the top right, which was the original source… yay! Another logo!)

I should hardly be surprised but it perplexes me that in a time when Netflix, Amazon and others are taking over the world with Internet TV, traditional broadcasters don’t even seem to be making an effort. Of course, TV is not dead yet but it’s still bleeding viewers. Why do they do so much to ruin what was the defining mainstream experience for decades?

Traditional broadcasters need to reinvent themselves, improve their quality and find the essence of what makes traditional broadcasting or live TV special. As more and more big-budget productions go to the Web, these dinosaurs should be thinking long-term. Forget the conflict, drama, easy ads and reality shows; think about what audiences want.

Daily Rumination No. 7: McEquine

I’m not a huge fan of McDonald’s but whenever I’m visiting somewhere for the first time, if we happen to stop there for a quick meal, I like to check out how the menu differs.

Usually, you’ll only ever spot unusual things if you visit a different country. Two examples that spring to my mind are restaurants in Germany and Japan. When I was on student exchange in the German city of Freiburg, I visited McDonald’s in the Altstadt (old city), which unfortunately is built into a beautiful medieval gate called Martinstor (Martin’s Gate). It was there that I saw a McRib on the menu for the first time. ‘Fair enough then’, I thought. When in Tokyo, I saw what is arguably much more off-putting: the McHotdog. I don’t want to know what goes into that.

Whilst in Brisbane for work this week, I quickly ducked into a McDonald’s with a colleague. Being in Australia, everything was pretty much the same as back at home in Wollongong. Although I did spot something on the menu that I hadn’t seen before: the Bronco Burger.

Brisbane’s rugby league team is called the Brisbane Broncos, so naturally this is a bit of a cross-promotion to attract any fans walking in for a meal. It’s really just a regular-looking McDonald’s burger with a footy name.

I’m not sure that McDonald’s Australia has considered how such a name may be interpreted by any foreign tourists or people from non-English-speaking backgrounds. When they see the unfamiliar word ‘bronco’ and type it into the dictionary app on their iPhone, they’re going to think that McDonald’s has started to put horse meat in its burgers.

To be honest, considering how unhealthy the food is, I’m not sure that it would even matter. Who knows what actually finds its way into various food items there?

Perhaps we should embrace such a sporting homage and brand cross-promotion. Really, McDonald’s should just go all out and start naming burgers ‘McPhar Lap’ and the ‘Grand Angus Black Beauty’ and perhaps even change their cookies to ‘Seabiscuits’. I’m sure that they’d sell like hotcakes.