It’s Not Failure

[12/20/10]

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(photo by Seeding-Chaos)

All throughout grade school, I was taught that failure was wrong. I distinctly remember how I would cringe at receiving anything below a perfect score in middle school.

So what I was I being good at? Memorizing large quantities of information. In order to pass tests, I would swallow the textbook a few days beforehand and forget it all by the end of the week. Multiple-choice tests trained everyone to scan for the right answer, not problem solve under a pressure situation.

Because I was motivated by what I now perceive to be a hollow letter, I only funneled my energy into spitting out things I was taught to be “right.” I didn’t question anything in particular. Because I didn’t question authority, I often didn’t think for myself and simply recited the knowledge around me verbatim.  

But what was the motivation for all of this? The fear of failure.

I didn’t want to be one of those kids that received punishments by the school, their parents and their peers if they didn’t do well. Yet it’s also embedded in all kinds of life quotes that people have to fail in order to learn.

So I was afraid to try, because trying meant I would most likely (in my mind) fail.

I’ve realized this more and more the longer I’ve been away from home, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until my teacher for a design course this fall told me one day: “You have to fail at least a couple of times before you get it right. I haven’t seen you fail yet.”

It hit me then. It made so much sense. I had been procrastinating on developing the prototype for my group’s concept, because I was afraid it wouldn’t work. But of course it’s not going to work. It never works the first time.

Quite simply, failure is only a concept, a word that people came up to describe something or perhaps someone who hasn’t made it work. That’s all it is. But if something doesn’t work, you try something else, modify the original plan a little and keep trying. It’s not the end of the world.

But because we have this word “failure,” we impress feelings of guilt and shame onto people during situations where things aren’t running smoothly.

When other people tell you that you have failed, you have to realize that it’s not up to them to tell you that; it’s up to you. This culturally-conceived notion of “failure” keeps us from doing our best. It keeps us from taking the risks we need to learn, develop and grow as individuals. We never actually fail until we stop thinking, doing, making…

So instead of saying I’m going to fail a hundred times, I’m making it a personal goal to “try,” “struggle,” and to “aspire” more this year – all of which are more productive than pondering the consequences of failure.

 

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Papers Should Not Be a Dead End

[12/20/10]

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(photo by Martin Kingsley)

Idea: teachers should give out assignments where students write essays in response to other student’s essays.

Students would a) write with more consideration in their thinking, b) have an emotional relationship with their work and c) understand why they write.

Photographs That Make You Think Twice

[12/13/10]

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[section of a paper for class]

Swaying the masses through a variety of mediums has always been one of art’s most potent qualities. While there are numerous technical fixes to a problem such as waste, there are few better fixes than art, which starts from changing individuals from within. Art challenges, questions, persuades and reveals. It is a reflection of our lives, our society and how we think.

There are many artists that have tackled the problem of waste in their work. Some reuse trash to make aesthetically pleasing objects, some paint it and some use it as a tool in their art-making. There are also those who capture waste as a subject matter that we, as individuals, cannot ignore. It is not about portraying waste differently than it is. It is simply about making everyone confront it.

Chris Jordan is one artist who has achieved this with great success. His project entitled “Running the Numbers” is about creating images with products we consume to represent a statistic about waste. For example, Plastic Bottles, 2007 is a large photograph that “depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.” 

From far away, two million plastic bottles appears as a textured plane that extends outwards into space. Once the viewer looks closer (or zoom in on the screen), he or she will begin to recognize shapes and be able to read the labels on the shapes. It is then that the viewer realizes this plane is in fact made of plastic bottles and the true meaning of the statistic becomes clear. Chris Bruce, Director of the Museum of Art/ Washington State University describes this reaction clearly: “When the artist showed his work on the mock TV news show The Colbert Report in October 2007, there was a spontaneous gasp from the audience as a slide of the overall view of Cans Seurat shifted to a close-up. I think that gasp came from a palpable sense of seeing oneself in the big picture: We go from observing the overall image to identifying ‘my Pepsi’ or ‘my V8’” (Jordan, 8).

Why is this an effective method of shifting perception? It’s difficult for people to understand the impact of an individual bottle on the environment, yet when faced with two million of them laying next to each other it is impossible to ignore. Many people do not have the chance to see such a sight in person unless they work within the manufacturing of the product. In taking this photograph, Chris Jordan illustrates that “what we each have to expand our consciousness to hold is that the cumulative effect of hundreds of millions of individual consumer decisions is causing the worldwide destruction of our environment” (Jordan, 12). He gives everyone the opportunity to see what the statistic truly means on a visual level.

The image is also effective, because it can be emotional. Wired magazine editor, Daniel Pink, explains, “when facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact” (Jordan, 11). The audience suddenly understands their connection to what they are seeing because they might use that particular product every single day and throw it away without thinking twice. Indeed, the artist states himself, “I think of Running the Numbers as a kind of translation, from the deadening language of statistics into a more universal visual language that might allow for more feeling. The underlying aim is to question our roles and responsibilities as individuals in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming” (Jordan, 35).

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Once “two million” is no longer an abstract number, we’re able to feel it. Once we can examine our own unconscious behaviors, we can act on them; and once we act, we can change.

HOLSTEE visits RISD!

[11/23/10]

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You have got to check out HOLSTEE! They design and curate with a conscience! Products from their online store include The Recycled Wallet, which is made of newspapers and plastic bags collected from the streets of India, and the People Pendant, which is made from acrylics scraps from a Chicago sign factory. 10% of Holstee’s proceeds go Kiva, a micro-lending service that helps entrepreneurs in developing countries start their own venture. They visited RISD today to share their story of how they created a business that’s about doing good and inspiring other people to follow their dreams as well as what sustainable design means to them. 

Their post on this:http://www.blog.holstee.com/excited-to-be-sharing-the-holstee-story-with

A Critique of the Life Cycle Assessment

[10/24/10]

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This was a response paper I wrote for a class, so forgive the essay-ness of the format.


 The LCA is a useful tool for companies who want to move beyond simply complying with industry standards and find ways to reduce their products’ impact on the environment. It can be difficult to find accurate data at times enable to conduct the LCA, but it’s honest. Whether it’s making a difference is another story. The Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) states specifically that the “life cycle assessment is a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach for assessing industrial systems. ‘Cradle-to-grave’ begins with the gathering of raw materials from the earth to create the product and ends at the point when all materials are returned to the earth” (1). Although the SAIC touches on the recycling and reuse of material, expressing the assessment as a “cradle-to-grave” approach makes it more difficult to make the leap to “cradle-to-cradle.” 


Because analysts to can use the LCA to “compare the health and ecological impacts between two or more rival products/processes or identify the impacts of a specific product or process” (3), this approach is still mainly working within the existing system of product manufacturing. The database of materials and processes are limited to what is currently being used rather than necessarily what could be used. For example, to lower the eco-toxicity of a flashlight, one could change the material from primary aluminum to recycled or secondary aluminum. Even if the other materials and processes remain the same, the company can still say that are helping the environment. All this is does is change the “bad” into the “less bad.” 


What if the LCA did not only focus on the negative impacts of the product to the environment, but also on the positive impacts? Currently, if trim/scrap from the manufacturing process is reused, “they are considered ‘home scrap,’ which is part of an internal recycling loop. These materials are not included in the inventory analysis, because they do not cross the boundaries of the subsystem” (22). Because they’re not included in the in the inventory, this does not move the product’s impact towards a positive or negative direction. If products of consumption created excess trim that was beneficial for the environment, there would be no way to gauge its positive impact within the current LCA format. 


When a business is trying to advocate for sustainability, they want to be able to use the LCA to determine how much environmental impact their products cause. The LCA is a great way to understand how in need one’s product may be of a redesign. Yet, the LCA may propel the thinking that reduction along with reuse and recycling, is the only way to go; it’s an assessment that’s specifically about the cradle-to-grave procedure, allows people to work only with what data that is available for materials and processes, and expresses impacts in only negative terms. Instead of operating under this system of scarcity, we need reinvention and restructurization of what materials should be used and how they should be processed to create goods. Hence, it’s ultimately “less bad,” and not enough.

 

 1. United States: Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Life Cycle Assessment: Principles and Practice. Cincinnati: Scientific Applications International Corporation, 2006.

 

“I could never eat shrimps with heads”

[2/5/10]

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(photo from imageafter)


I learned recently that my friends aren’t really down with the idea of eating shrimp still attached with their heads. Well, I know it’s never fun to look into the eyes of a dead thing while you’re munching on it, but I felt I received an over-reaction at my comment that I don’t eating shrimp whole.

 

Yes, this is the girl whose favorite food as a child was fish eyes, but give me a chance here.

The problem is that everything is so processed where I live now that people can’t attach middle to beginning. I’m calling it disconnection to source.

 

I’m used to eating as in a lot of people sitting at a circular table participating in a very active event. If I may, I will use my grandfather as an example. The majority of what my grandfather eats on a daily basis involves an additional process before it’s gulped down. That means peeling, cracking – you name it – parts of the food to eat it.

 

I lived like that too at one point. I’m positive my one-year-old self was better at spitting out fish bones than I am now. But it was because I had a need to do it. Nothing was done for me.

 

We all know how the story goes here. Everything – everything – is de-boned, de-scaled, be-headed and de-gutted. So perhaps my issue with this disassociation to where things come from is just cultural. Is it?

 

For me, it’s not about the shrimp. It’s that we forget where things come from and we forget where things go. It’s like seeing only yellow-green instead of the entire spectrum. How many of us take food that’s handed to us and swallow it all at once, not cherishing it or thinking about how difficult and how long the process was of obtaining it in the first place. How many people are aware that half the foods they eat during spring are out of season?

 

When I was little, I was told that I couldn’t waste a single grain of rice on my dinner bowl, because rice farmers had spent all day every day toiling in the sun to produce it for me. Someone else had to suffer so I could have something precious.

Sure, much of what I eat now is grown by farmers using efficient machines, but for many places on the planet, my old philosophy still holds. Understanding the most vital ingredient for sustaining life still matters.

 

I still love my friends. They can hate eating shrimp with their attached heads. I’ll carry on eating my seaweed, octopus and eel.

 

These Boots Are Made For Walkin’

[9/7/09]

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My friend from England visited me in middle of nowhere, suburbia, MA recently and was astonished at how everything was “bigger” in America. That’s no surprise to anyone who has stepped out of his or her doors for a learning experience or two elsewhere. Everything is indeed bigger. The cars are bigger, the people are bigger, the houses and yards and bigger and the servings at restaurants are bigger.

But like everything there are exceptions to this rule. The sidewalks/pavements are smaller, or in many cases nonexistent. When I moved to the U.S. ten years ago, I experienced the same kind of confusion at why there are more people but fewer walking paths. It didn’t take me long to figure out it was because you couldn’t actually walk anywhere within a reasonable time frame. Of course, it still bothered that I was used to using sidewalks as the means to get places.

The 8-year-old me adapted quickly enough and accepted that walking was crossed off the list in favor of personal cars. I do think cars are wonderful in all sorts of ways. They are incredibly useful when you need to get somewhere – fast. It plays a key part in building our notion of how quickly life should move. Say I want to go to the supermarket, but I want to soak up the sun at the same time and get my exercise too. What happens is I realize how incredibly dangerous is it for me to make this trip, and I stop there.

Yesterday, my family took my friend into Boston where there are sidewalks. As we drove along the Charles River, we watched the people on the path beside us. There were joggers, more joggers, some bikers, a skateboarder and more joggers. No one was walking. OK, there were probably a few people here and there that were legitimately strolling, but I promise the majority of those people were not.

I don’t think everyone is uptight and rushed, but everything in our media and in our communities point to this. How many times have you seen a cell phone commercial that boasts how you’ll become the most efficient texting “machine” if you buy the phone or a service that “connects you faster than ever” to so and so? I’m betting probably a fair number of times. 

But we have the highest GDP in the world, don’t we? We work and live faster, because we grow faster? So let me ask you: Does this fact make you happier?

I challenge whoever is reading this to spend a day walking to their friend’s house or to the closest store. When you reach your destination, I hope that you will feel immensely satisfied by having made that walk. And I hope you’ll also feel some kind of achievement in it, because you put in effort to get there. I think it’s time to give a go. What do you think?

Oh hey!

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Hi there! This is my first post on posterous. It’s unalarming, unthrilling and relatively plain. But soon, you will travel with me on an enlightening —

wait, no. Hm…this is harder than it looks. Maybe something more witty will strike me tomorrow.